Buried was one of my favorite films of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, a riveting white-knuckler
that left me drooling for another Rodrigo Cortes movie. I was an immediate fan. When Red Lights was announced as Cortes’ next project, the high-powered cast (Cillian Murphy! Sigourney Weaver!
Robert DeNiro!) and the high-concept premise (Paranormal Investigators Bust Murderous Psychic!)
sounded like a potent combination. On paper, at least. But while Buried had its Sundance audience
squirming in suspense, Red Lights left them squirming in outright boredom.
The problem certainly isn’t with the concept, with is pretty damn cool. Weaver and Murphy play
university doctors out to debunk any paranormal fakers, and when a reclusive psychic (DeNiro) returns to
the public eye after a 30-year absence, they are compelled to investigate his new tactics. Now that sounds
like a movie I’d like to see. Unfortunately, that’s not the movie writer/director Rodrigo Cortes chose to
Although DeNiro is established as the villain early on, most of Red Lights is devoted to developing
the interpersonal relationships of the characters, and DeNiro is repeatedly pushed to the background.
Instead of focusing on his script’s most compelling element, Cortes chooses to pump his movie full of
episodic moments straight out of an amateur Ghostbusters sequel . Weaver and Murphy bust a
table-rocking psychic, a manipulative healer, an ESP faker, etc. Every once in a while a line of dialogue
will remind the audience that the evil DeNiro is the focus of the film, but it doesn’t take long for Cortes
to drift back to boring background shit involving his characters. We learn that Sigourney Weaver’s son
is on life support, Cillian Murphy is crushing on a student (Elizabeth Olson: super-cute, as always, but
given literally NOTHING to do here)––oh, and don‘t forget, eventually they’ll get around to taking down
What’s most frustrating about Red Lights is that it’s one of those movies that seems like it’s going
to get better at any given second. The performances are great; you can tell the entire cast believes
in this thing. But ultimately, the movie serves as the perfect example of an excellent idea, poorly executed.
Even the final twist is poorly conceived, packing far less of a punch than Cortes probably intended––sort of
an “anti-payoff”, in the words of one colleague. Occasionally posing as a horror movie, Red Light’s melodrama is sometimes goosed with a gratingly loud sound sting, but don’t let that fool you. Rather
than scare, Cortes is just looking to wake up his dozing audience.