Director Rodrigo Cortes last film, "Buried" made one hell of an impression. Featuring Ryan Reynolds in his most demanding role to date as a man buried alive, it was one of the most impressive directorial debuts to come along in quite a while. Cortes showed an immense amount of restraint and was able to utilize his one solitary environment in increasingly imaginative ways. Now we have his sophomore effort with "Red Lights", a film of much grander scope and imagination. Dealing with the world of so called telepaths, paranormal oddities or the supernatural, his choice for a follow up to the stupendous "Buried" is both a bold and interesting step forward for the filmmaker.
The film opens as we follow Dr. Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her younger assistant Dr. Buckley (Cillian Murphy) on one of their visits to a local home suspected of some paranormal activity. Their visit is one of concern, but not for the residents of the home, their concern lies in proving their claims of a haunted house to be false. They are not ghost hunters nor are they true believers, they are professional skeptics. Traveling from one place to another they investigate those who claim to either have supernatural powers or have some sort of connection to the other side and set out to expose them as the frauds they are. While not on the road, both also lecture at a prestigious school devoted to scientific studies where they preach to the masses about how to debunk any so called mystics out there. Only when the infamous Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), renowned psychic comes out of retirement do both Matheson and Buckley face an adversary that even has them questioning what is real and what isn't.
This may sound like a negative remark, which it isn't, but "Red Lights" is a much more conventional and by the numbers style of film compared to Cortes' first feature, which with its confined location and single character premise was a much more challenging and ultimately more rewarding experience. That's not to say his newest feature isn't without its merits though. Cortes takes full advantage of having a broader scope to his story and populates his film with some truly fine actors to help anchor some of its more absurd notions.
Having both Weaver and Murphy lead the charge as our gateway into their skeptical world makes a convincing argument for their way of thinking. Equally as strong is De Niro as their main nemesis, a man who seems to have powers that go beyond anything anyone could ever imagine. Their struggle to prove Silver as a fraud and how he repeatedly puts them in their place is shocking but equally fascinating. You, like them, know there isn't something right with Silver, but he is so convincing that you can understand when even they begin to lose their faith a little.
Their confrontations are the bread and butter of the film, other side stories and characters such as Elizabeth Olsen as Buckley's sorta but not really girlfriend and the head of the science department played by Toby Jones bring in strong supporting performances, but their impact is lessened due to how irrelevant their characters become by the end of the film. When Cortes focuses on either Matheson, Buckley or Silver, it is almost consistently engaging and endlessly fascinating. The premise alone is enough to keep most viewers around until the end credits roll, but unfortunately that is where the film stumbles the most.
How the film wraps everything up contradicts most of what it was preaching which leaves the viewer a little confused as to what exactly Cortes is trying to say here. It's as if you have a story about someone who does not believe in religion the entire time who suddenly creates their own religion by the end. Luckily the performances and unique premise are strong enough to hold everything together as to not completely undermine everything that came before it. Having a twist to your story is fine, it just shouldn't come at the expense of the theme of the film. "Red Lights" isn't as impressive a film as "Buried" but Cortes still comes through with a fun little thriller filled with great actors and an intriguing concept in the end.