Last night was not a night for heavy fare. So we went for a film by Rodrigo Cortés, one of the many Spanish directors on Netflix streaming who seem vaguely familiar, but you can’t quite place what they’ve done. Well, Cortés might be known for directing the Ryan Reynolds pic Buried (which once upon a time was on Netflix streaming), but in the Netflix universe he wrote the just OK Apartment 143, which at some point Netflix seemed to be begging us to watch every time we logged on.
I included the Spanish language poster for Red Lights (2012) because this is a Spanish production, shot mostly in Barcelona, with some shots in Toronto. It grossed over $4 million theatrically in Spain, and in the USA it managed to make….$52,644, or less than what many Americans make in a year. So this would make this pretty much a straight to video title, which begs the question, “Why is it straight to video?” or really, “What’s wrong with this movie?” The movie received mostly negative reviews, and many online reviewers don’t like it, but only knowing it from showing up on Netflix, I came to it with an open mind.
The tension between having an open mind and maintaining a healthy skepticism based in science drives the conflict in Red Lights. The beginning reminded me of such films as The Conjuring, with Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Matheson and the criminally underused Cillian Murphy as her assistant in research. They visit a home where there seems to be paranormal activity, which they quickly dismiss. Like The Conjuring, Weaver and Murphy investigate any phenomena reported to them. Unlike the couple in that movie, however, their research leads them to debunk so-called psychics, and expose them as frauds, when necessary. This is hardly groundbreaking material however, as I’m sure you could think of a couple of films without much effort that follow a similar format.
But even before the appearance of Robert DeNiro as a world-renowned psychic coming out of a long retirement to prove himself, there was something odd about this movie and the feeling it induced. I’m not sure whether this was a sign that indeed the movie was of the quality deserving such a limited release, or if there was something intentional about how the editing and timing of the opening scenes created an almost rushed atmosphere. There were some good lines throughout the movie, when most movies of this type seem content on cheap scares and expository dialogue. There is some of that to be sure, but the decent script, and the solid performances by Murphy and Weaver combine for a better than expected viewing experience. DeNiro isn’t as bad as he has been of late, while Toby Jones and Elizabeth Olson are fine, but the movie almost didn’t need them.
DeNiro’s psychic seems to be the real deal, and although we see the typical “struggle to still not believe” scenes from Weaver and Murphy, we actually bought into those scenes because all the characters felt like real people, or as much as they can in a film that isn’t a character study. We at least know them as well as we know Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, and at least no one has been telling me how great Weaver was in this film for the last three months.
But much to my delight, Red Lights is actually Murphy’s movie, and to say much else would be to act as a spoiler. Like many other films that depend so heavily on their ending, whether you like the film or not depends on whether or not you think the film earned the ending it put in place (or on how well you understand it). While we did have some questions about it, we were able to quickly look at a key scene, thanks to Netflix streaming’s excellent rewinding feature where you can see each frame. Doing so also revealed the possibility that we have to re-examine Dr. Matheson’s (Weaver’s) motives and nature as well. Whether or not you like the ending, or buy it, I can say that I don’t think it’s been done before in a movie of this type. I personally liked it, and made what otherwise might have been just a decent but cookie cutter film more memorable. Not a great film, but pretty damn good. All the haters should just relax and realize that this film didn’t cost them anything.
My Netflix rating: 4 out of 5 (3.5 if it were available)
My ImDB rating: 7 out of 10