January 23, 2012

Sundance Review: Red Lights

One of my biggest... I wouldn't say fears, but concerns with our world is the fact that there, in fact, might be other forces at work other than what we know to be true. Like it or not, there are some things that just cannot be explained... and that sort of terrifies me. I got into Rodrigo Cotrés' Red Lights sort of by accident. The ticket was purchased when the screening was still listed as TBA, but I must say, I am very glad things worked out the way they did. Red Lights is rock solid, with superb performances, a gripping sense of suspense, and sublime direction. Though it does go off the rails in the final five minutes, it's still a tense and thrilling ride.

Tom Buckley makes a living off debunking paranormal occurrences, revealing them to be nothing more than an elaborate hoax. In tandem with his boss, Margaret Matheson, they travel the country, putting to bed myths of ghosts and demons, while teaching a course on paranormal investigation at an upscale university. When Simon Silver, an enigmatic psychic, reappears after a 30 year absence however, things start to get weird. Tom soon develops an obsession with outing Silver as a hoax, which proves to be increasingly difficult as the strange, unexplainable events start to ramp up.

It's Paranormal Activity with a brain. Director Cortés said in the Q&A that he didn't want to answer any questions, rather provide occurrences that have more than one explanation, and he succeeds admirably. Everything that happens in this movie disproves previous theories and stirs up new ones, keeping the audience invested in what's going on at all times.

This is helped by a stellar cast. Cillian Murphy is superb as Tom, and Sirgourney Weaver is just as good as his level headed boss. Elizabeth Olsen is also wonderful as a student who assists Tom in more ways than one, and Toby Jones is good as a fellow professor.

The real standout, though, is Robert De Niro, once again showing that films like Killer Elite and New Years Eve are just not enough to squash his talent. He is fascinating as Silver, delivering a complex and scary performance.

Rodrigo Cortés is great at creating suspense and keeping the audience on the edge of their seat. Right from the beginning scene, which see's Tom and Margaret traveling to a remote house to "deal with it's demon problem", Cortés ratchets up the tension. Followed by an opening credits sequence that would be right at home in a Fincher film, the rest of the movie doesn't slow down at all. This is helped by some brilliant cinematography, courtesy of Xavi Giménez, and some chilling sound work. There were dozens of times where people in the audience gasped or jumped. One woman actually screamed.

And though the final five minutes don't really do it for me, the rest of Red Lights is top shelf. The performances all resonate, and the direction is impeccable. This is one the most entertaining films I've seen during the festival, and one of the most successful in terms of what it said out to do. It's a mind trip of the highest order, and it's one that leaves you breathless.

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