Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ten Statements About....RED LIGHTS (2012)

She may have experience ghostbusting, but this time the
laughs are few and far between....
"There are two kinds of people out there with a special gift. The ones who really think they have some kind of power. And the other guys, who think we can't figure them out."

1) This is a film where there is a 'shocking end twist'; but unlike certain other horror films with twists in them, the twist isn't the end all and be all of the film. The revelation in the film's final moments actually dovetails directly into what director Roderigo Cortes wants to say about belief, faith and the need for physical proof.

2) ....and one of the things I respect about this film is that Cortes pretty much tells us within the first ten minutes what is going on--Hell, he has the key person spell it out for another one--and frequently clues us in on the mystical element of this story, yet does so in such a subtle way we either don't notice or are unwilling to notice until the trap is sprung.

3) The thing about Robert DeNiro's performance is how we almost never see his Simon Silver in a private moment. We see Silver through other eyes--on television shows, in experiment footage, during his stage show. Thus, the two moments where Silver is not performing, where we see what could very well be the real Silver, have even more impact than they might otherwise have.
Those dark sunglasses may be the least bit of misdirection
in this movie....

4) I find it fascinating how in some way all three of our principles are missing something--in the case of our heroes, it's something spiritual (although the twist throws one of these two people's claims into doubt), and in the case of Silver it's his physical sight (although there are the very subtle implication that Silver is sighted and playing at being blind to emphasize the power of his gift). This gives them echoes of the people who are being victimized by the psychics Sigourney Weaver's Matheson and Cillian Murphy's Buckley chase after.

5) Even thought it's undeniable that Murphy and Elizabeth Olsen have powerful chemistry (it doesn't surprise me in the least that we find out about halfway through that Buckley and Olsen's Owen are now living together), her characters seems...superfluous. I suspect she's there primarily to give Buckley and Matheson someone to explain their psychic-busting operations to in the first half, and to 'ground' the scares in the second half. I welcome her presence because she works so well with the actors around her, but she's the most out of place of the elements in this film.

6) I love how the scares are done without any sort of obvious CGI trickery--the only possible CGI work I can detect happens near the very end, in the experimentation montage, and is very quiet. None of them are of the 'jump out of your seat' variety, although almost all of them are creepy in their own way....and my favorite, involving the rearrangement of a room in the matter of seconds, seems to have echoes of the chairs rearranging in Poltergeist.
Yeah, Buckley may have that UFO poster Mulder had in
his office...but this guy may not be looking for truth at all.

7) It's interesting how Cortes goes out of his way to avoid nailing down where this film takes place. Even though the script references real world cities, once we get to this city, places and landmarks become nebulous. Of course, this is a subtle way for Cortes to make the experiences in the story 'universal,' but it also gives the film itself an eerie, strangely dream-like quality.

(For what it's worth, I assumed the city was St. Louis, although there are moments when it looks like Seattle, Portland and Houston)

8) If there is a problem with the film's script, it's how in Matheson Cortes once more resorts to the old cliche of The Learned Person Who Becomes A Skeptic When They Lose A Child. Granted, Weaver is such a good actress that she's able to give that knee-jerk character trait nuance--and she manages to take that and use it to the benefit of her relationship with Buckley, as we get the impression she's transfered the feelings she would have had toward her son if he grew up normally to Buckley. But this is a clever enough script that I find resorting to this lazy bit of characterization a sore spot.

9) I will watch Toby Jones in pretty much anything--and it's great seeing his Shackleton set up as the comic foil for Matheson, only to have him take on a different role in the story once Matheson is written out of the film itself.

10) Much like the mood of the film, the color palette on this film is very muted, almost washed out and unsaturated in the way John Frankenheimer used to to simulate black and white cinematography. The only time we do get bright colors is when we see red--either blood, or the little notebooks one of the false psychic's crew uses to write notes in. This serves to create the sense that, even with all the high tech we see, the film itself is set in some other time.

Overall...a subdued little horror film that will probably unnerve rather than out and out scare, but gets a lot of credit for its strong acting, effective misdirection and deliberate pace. It may be more M.R. James than Stephen King....but in a cinematic world where everything's about spurting wounds, it's rather refreshing.

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