On Friday night, when Rodrigo Cortés premiered Red Lights to a packed Eccles Theatre, he offered up a piece of advice to the 1,200 audience members: “Don’t expect anything.” Duly noted, but audiences were hungry for the director’s follow-up to his much buzzed about Buried, which premiered at the 2010 Festival and boldly put Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for two suspenseful hours in a Hitchcockian, politically-charged thriller. His new film inhabits a similar tension-filled terrain; but Cortés is working on a much larger canvas here, having upgraded from Buried’s $3 million budget, claustrophobic one set, one actor storyline to Red Light’s $15-17 million budget, with an intricately twisted plot.
Red Lights stars a formidable cast any director would lock himself in a coffin for two hours to work with. Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, and Elizabeth Olsen collectively ground a nebulous storyline with hefty performances. Dr. Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and her assistant Tom Buckley (Murphy) study and investigate paranormal hoaxes. In this case, they set out to debunk the legendary blind psychic Simon Silver (De Niro), who had enigmatically disappeared for 30 years, but has recently returned to the spotlight. Elizabeth Olsen plays a precocious student who joins the investigative team and quickly becomes Murphy’s love interest – maybe the most magnetic pairing of penetrating blue eyes on screen ever. Cortés, who not only directed, but also wrote and edited the film, riddles the subject of supernatural phenomena with the calculated rationale of science and the emotion of personal experience. Even as Matheson and Buckley dedicate their lives to standing firmly in reason, they struggle in their search to answer the essential question: Do supernatural powers exist?
You may anticipate a spoiler alert at this point, but that’s not how this film plays out. Yes, a resolution is offered, and we are reminded that sometimes the truth lies right before our very eyes. Yet the film’s ultimate resolution is as murky as a smudged crystal ball. In the Q&A following the screening, one audience member actually asked Cortés to explain what happens in the end. He kindly declined, hoping that each viewer has his/her own unique interpretation. And as he previously remarked his goal in making the film was for audiences not to just see it, but to experience it. “You start forgetting most movies after the credits start rolling,” the filmmaker said. “But some movies still survive inside your head,” said the director optimistically.
The script stuck with Sigourney Weaver, who was present for the Q&A along with Murphy and Olsen. “People have this great desire to believe that there’s more than what is,” Weaver said. “What is it in us that is not satisfied? Why do we dream and yearn for this other reality?” She consoled the mystified audience with her take on the film’s meaning, “If you really wanted to reduce everything down to phenomenon you probably could, but I think [Cortés’] point is that we don’t want to. We prefer to believe that fairies have done it.”