Review: Red Lights (Sundance 2012)
PLOT: Two investigators (Cillian Murphy & Sigourney Weaver) who specialize in debunking paranormal activity, square-off against a world-renowned psychic (Robert De Niro), who's returned to the stage fifteen years after one of his critics died a mysterious death during a live performance.
REVIEW: RED LIGHTS has got to have one of the all-time WTF endings I've ever seen. You know the type- where 95% of the film is straightforward, and seems to be going one way- until a massive curve ball is thrown at the audience leading to an ending that, depending on who you ask, is either profound, or one of the single dumbest things ever put on celluloid.
In this case, I lean to the profound reaction, although I can see how the last five minutes of RED LIGHTS could be infuriating for some. The press at the screening I saw this with seemed absolutely livid when the credits rolled, but I actually kind of dug the sheer ballsyness of director/write Rodrigo Cortes (who was last at Sundance with the Ryan Reynolds-starrer, BURIED) for giving us something that, no matter what your reaction is, is admittedly bold.
Considering the wild finish, I'll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible. The vast majority of the film is a tightly paced, extremely effective thriller- free of cheap scares, and boasting an A-list cast and polish. You probably couldn't ask for two better leads in a film like this than Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy, and both are as good as they've ever been. Murphy in particular has always seemed like a star-in-the-making, and he makes for an extremely charismatic lead in a film like this. In some ways, he reminded me a bit of Jason Miller in THE EXORCIST, playing the conflicted investigator, whose very sanity is at risk in his devotion to uncovering the truth behind De Niro's psychic powers.
Anyone who's interested in Para-psychology will find a lot to chew on here, with many of the psychic scams being based on infamous fake-paranormal cases from the seventies and eighties. De Niro seems to be playing a variation on Uri Geller, who was famously proven a fraud by none other than Johnny Carson, live on 'The Tonight Show' back in the seventies. In the role, De Niro is...OK, but he goes way overboard in the end, and chews the scenery a little too much. This clashes with Weaver and Murphy's more naturalistic approach, which I'll always take over the broad and hysterical.
Sundance IT-girl Elizabeth Olsen of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE pops up as an amorous college student drawn into Murphy's pursuit of De Niro. It's a bit of a nothing role for someone as talented as Olsen, although like Murphy and Weaver, she plays it straight, and never becomes the screaming love-interest.
Director Cortes has done a good job assembling a real A-quality supernatural thriller, and it's nice to see a genre film so polished and classy. Too often, this genre gets treated as exploitation, but this harkens back to the heyday of the genre (arguably the late sixties-early seventies time of ROSEMARY'S BABY & THE EXORCIST), when studios weren't afraid to put out films of this ilk that took themselves seriously.
As for the final twist- it really didn't bug me as much as some people here at the fest. Given the way it's divided audiences, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Cortes eventually ends up scrapping the twist by re-shooting or re-cutting the end. However, I hope that doesn't happen. Whatever the ending is, it's unique and far from predictable. While I think the knee-jerk reaction of many audience members will be to dismiss it, it's the kind of thing that actually works when you chew on it a bit. That aside, even if you're not keen on the denouement, RED LIGHTS is still a very effective, polished thriller, and something I think a lot of genre fans will appreciate.