With Buried, his 2010 English-language debut, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés proved he could handle tension with limited resources.
The toolbox may be bigger in his supernaturally themed follow-up, but Red Lights shows Cortés’ knack for suspense was no fluke.
Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy are Dr Margaret Matheson and assistant Tom Buckley, two professional sceptics exposing fraudsters that prey on the superstitions of unsuspecting clients. That is, until the reappearance of blind psychic Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), an industry veteran AWOL for 30 years.
Does he really possess superhuman abilities? Playing like a Hitchcockian thriller with shades of Shyamalan and ’70s conspiracy flicks, Red Lights sets its stall in the opening scene – a séance that cranks up the creep factor. Cortés maintains the momentum: doors creak, lights shatter, phone calls are suddenly interrupted by kamikaze crows…
The classy production design belies the film’s low budget, while the A-list cast are game: Murphy carries the film admirably as the perky padawan dragged into obsession; Weaver adds depth and wry humour; and there’s solid support from Elizabeth Olsen, Craig Roberts and Toby Jones.
Where the film comes unstuck is its bombastic last act. Cortés finally loosens his firm grip as the action spins deliriously out of control – mirroring De Niro’s transformation from quietly menacing medium to wildly OTT man-with-a-God-complex.
Some will think it preposterous, even pretentious; others will find it perfect fodder to debate over a post-screening pint. Either way, it’s destined to intrigue and infuriate in equal measure.
A starry cast, curious premise and well-crafted shocks make for an ambitious thriller that ekes – and eeks – out the tension to its iffy finale.