19 June 2012


The worst kind of plot twist in a movie is the kind that makes no sense, following everything that you've seen so far. You don't see this kind of twist coming, but that's because it doesn't flow naturally from the preceding action. You wind up thinking about the movie afterwards, but only to figure out the inconsistencies in the plot, given where it all wound up. Handily, the hugely disappointing Red Lights belays all of that post-viewing analysis, by showing its workings, on screen, all the way through.

After Buried, a superbly mounted psychological horror film that was one of my ten favourite films of 2010, director Rodrigo Cortés also writes and edits this film, in which doctors Tom Buckley and Margaret Matheson are professional sceptics who travel around debunking fraudulent paranormal activity. Buckley, the younger and more impulsive of the two, urges his mentor to investigate Simon Silver, a psychic who retired from public gigs and has now decided to return to the limelight. Matheson warns him to stay away, and apparently, not without reason.

Buried played a big part in my expectations from this film, but before we get into any of the rejoinders that have buoyed certain fans of Prometheus, I didn't know anything about this film, except that Cortés was involved. After leaving me breathless at the suspense amassed by Buried's very unnerving premise and execution, his latest film is badly reminiscent of the works of M. Night Shyamalan. It almost feels like making a film even slightly reminiscent of Hitchcock is the death knell for whatever a modern filmmaker does next. If Buried can be measured as Cortés' Lifeboat, then Red Lights is his The Village, with all of the poor dialogue and contrived storytelling that goes with such a label.

The first thing that really alienated me about the film was the editing, which, admittedly, isn't usually a big problem in Shyamalan's canon. The film's 115 minutes long, and it drags its feet getting there, but that's not what bothered me. It's the way that scenes are assembled, with jarring cuts and pacing that kills numerous moments of comic relief stone-dead. More than that, it's the organisation of the scenes, from a limp pre-credits sequence, which doesn't do anything that isn't repeated about 12 times before the plot gets going, to the closing montage, which doesn't shed a new light on earlier scenes, post-twist, as much as it immediately reminds us of how little sense it all made.

But that's only the first thing that annoyed me- Thing One, if you will. Thing Two would be the talent of the cast, and the way in which it's completely obscured here. Looking at the supporting cast alone, nobody who has seen the recent works of Elizabeth Olsen and Craig Roberts will agree that they deserved the poor showing that their characters get. Though neither of them are the worst offenders here, the film would not have played out any differently for the lack of Tom's two students, the former of whom provides a totally under-powered love interest.

No, it's far worse to be in this movie, and be Cillian Murphy and Robert De Niro. De Niro doesn't surprise me all that much these days, and he does precisely the amount of Exquisite Acting that I've come to expect, but there's no excuse for Murphy. He's miscast, and it's his performance that leads me to leave a lot of the blame at the director's door, for squandering the cast so shamelessly. He brings unexplored depths of rubbish out of an actor I usually love, and it's all the worse because Buckley is the main character, and Murphy is consigned to alternating between screaming fits of paranoia and sulky monologuing.

Thing Three is made up largely of monologues. Sigourney Weaver, the only cast-member to come out of this clean, does a decent job in measuring her monologues, as poorly written as they are, but the rest of them are erratically performed, and, coupled with the editing, quite hard to follow. With the editing such as it is, you might as well be clobbered by noise- with this many monologues, the experience is like watching Network, if Network were about nothing at all.

The next Thing is the biggy, and the main reason that the film didn't work for me, at all. Thing Four is the film's ultimate cop-out. Linking back to Thing Two, Toby Jones is amongst the great actors who is wasted, because his character represents a rival department to our heroes, pumping lots of funding into ESP experiments that range from inconclusive to incompetent. This opens up the floor to what could become an interesting discussion about thinkers and believers, but the film isn't smart enough for that. Often, it's made to appear as if Buckley and Matheson are the only sceptics in the world, and everyone else is a believer, a position that becomes even more embarrassing with that pesky final reveal.

Red Lights is a film with a twist ending, and it feels like Rodrigo Cortés had no interest in making anything other than that. Despite the potential for a slightly more ambiguous film, with deep thematic resonance and a sterling cast, the end result is confused and grossly disappointing, with amateurish editing, a script that goes on a lot and says nothing, and possibly a career-worst performance from Cillian Murphy. This is one of my least favourite films of the year so far, and all of those Things only annoyed me so much because everybody involved should know better.

Red Lights is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Red Lights, why not share your comments below? I couldn't fit it in the review, but there is a Thing Five- after seeing it, I can't think of Angry Birds without remembering one of its sillier chills.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


Darko Jakovljevic said...

I've alway hated people that expect something better and different from a movie, and when they see a movie like that they just dont understand it and say that it sucks. Some people should just stick to blockbusters.
PS. Not every movie should be explained perfectly at the end, sometimes you just have to follow the movie and use your brain. And the ending of this movie was perfect.

Mike Bentley said...

the way i see it .. there is no ending to this movie ! it was never finished off what a shame although you could come up with several endings I guess the message is to say if you want to believe in something then believe in yourself .