Red Lights (2012): Little Things That You Do

Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés (BuriedThe ContestantRed Lights is really a psychological  cum paranormal thriller. Rodrigo’s last film Buried did so well, that the studios obviously trusted him to work with the big money, aka star actors. You cannot really get much bigger than veteran actors Robert De NiroSigourney Weaver, and Joely Richardson.

Add into this already heady mix, the more ‘recent’ dependable actors in the guise of Cillian MurphyElizabeth Olsen and Toby Jones and you have a vehicle that just smacks of success. The “Readers Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

Sigourney Weaver

Dr Matheson (Weaver) is a psychologist who is also a veteran paranormal “debunker.” She works with her assistant  Dr Buckley (Murphy) who is a physicist. The beginning of the film sees the two “debunking” a typical haunting. That the two are fond of each other is apparent; these two are not just colleagues, they are friends.

After they finish, Matheson asks Buckley to drop her off at the hospital to see her comatose son, who is hooked up to a life support machine.

We next see the two presenting a class to university students. They are “teaching” them how to ‘fake’ a seance. We are introduced very briefly to Sally Owen (Olsen) who after the class approaches Dr Buckley to turn in an assignment. She clearly likes him and they go out  to a diner.  Buckley explains to Sally about  “red lights” which are the subtle tricks that fraudsters use to fool the gullible.

Robert De Niro at the premiere of Tennessee at...

Enter Simon Silver (De Niro) a blind older version of Uri Geller. He can bend spoons, practice telepathy and apparently can levitate. He is making his first public appearance in over thirty years. He ‘retired’ when one of his most fervent denouncers dramatically had a heart attack and died during Silver’s last public appearance.

Buckley wants to immediately investigate Silver and prove that he is a fraud. Dr Matheson urges Buckley to leave it alone. She had faced Silver thirty years ago and she maintains that he is too powerful to be touched. She also reveals that when she had gone up against Silver before, her young son suddenly toppled over and he has never regained conciousness.

Buckley ignores Matheson’s warning and starts investigating Silver anyway.

The build up of suspense in this film was brilliant. It played more like a mystery/thriller for three quarters of the film. The characters of Matheson and Buckley and Owen were drawn so well that we immediately felt a connection with them. In essence before the first twenty minutes of the film we found that we liked them and cared about what they were doing.

I was a little disappointed that Joely Richardson did not have more to do. She played Silver’s manager/agent and she came across as malevolent and not a little scary. De Niro did what he does best. He dominates the screen with his presence alone. He is still capable of catching our attention without saying a word.

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Elizabeth Olsen gave a very sturdy performance as Buckley’s love interest/partner in crime. Cillian Murphy was the stand-out performance in this film. He has come a long way since 28 Days Later and Inception.

English: Actor Cillian Murphy in 2010.

IMDb gives Red Lights a 6.6 out of  10. I would rate it higher just for the high quality of the acting and for the well woven plot. It is one of those films that you should see at least twice to catch every nuance the film has to offer. Just like the “red lights” mentioned by Buckley, the film will mislead you and trick you.

Despite the mediocre and misleading marketing of the film, it is worth the price of admission and splashing out for a bag of popcorn and a coke.

The Awakening (2011): Who Ya Gonna Call

The Awakening is one hundred percent English, like cricket or afternoon tea with strawberry jam, thick cream and scones. Currently an English film either does extremely well or dies a quiet and dismal death. This film appears to be smack in the middle with a very poor audience reception, the tally cannot be fully counted as the film is still being released in other countries throughout 2012. It  is all the more puzzling since the film opened at the Toronto Film Festival to mostly positive reviews. Amazingly this three million pound  film, has not done well,  pulling in a fraction of its production cost.

Nick Murphy directed and co-wrote the film with Stephen Volk and it is the first feature film helmed by Murphy (who has a long pedigree directing  television programmes).  British actress Rebecca Hall, perhaps more familiar to film goers as Emily Wotton in the film Dorian Gray, is an excellent actress who is moving up in the cinema world. She is currently working on the next instalment of the Iron Man series Iron Man 3.  Imelda Staunton gives a splendid performance as Maud the eccentric housekeeper. Dominic West is brilliant as the traumatized, wounded ex-army teacher in the boarding school. Especially notable is  Joseph Mawle as the school gardener/caretaker (he can currently be seen in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as Thomas Lincoln)  never has one actor exuded so much menace and downright nastiness. The real surprise is Isaac Hempstead Wright. This young actor gave a faultless performance as the young school boy Tom in his first ever film performance.

Preface –  The year is 1921 and the world  is still reeling from the deaths caused by the ‘War to end all wars’ and from the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1918. In England where  the religion of Spiritualism has always been quite popular, the amount of people who wanted to get in touch with their deceased loved-one rose to almost fever pitch. This lead to “easy pickings” for the charlatan mediums of the time.

The “Reader’s Digest” version of the plot is as follows: Famous Ghost ‘debunker’ Florence Cathcart spectacularly halts a seance in mid flow to reveal that the whole thing is a sham. Florence is not popular with the gullible victim and we see that this debunking business is quite hard on her psychologically. She has had a book published and this combined with her debunking work has made her a minor celebrity. Florence is approached by teacher Robert Malory from Rookford boy’s boarding school. He want’s Florence to come and debunk the ghost of a boy who was murdered back when the school was a private residence. Malory informs Florance that a boy has just recently died as a result of seeing the ghost. He also mentions that the housekeeper Maude, who has been with the school since it’s inception is a big fan of Florence’s and does not believe in ghosts.

Arriving at the school Florence meets the creepy grounds keeper Edward Judd, Maude (her number one fan), the headteacher and Freddie Strickland (another teacher at the school). After interviewing the students and the staff, Florence decides to accept the job and sets out her antique ghost-buster equipment throughout the school. She discovers who is responsible for the ‘hauntings’ and successfully debunks the school ghost. Things then take a harsh turn to the left and it seems that Florence has not debunked anything at all.

The overall mood and atmosphere of this film did not feel like your bog standard horror or ghost film. It affects you in a different way. My daughter, who watched the film with me, kept breaking out in goose flesh and I could not tear my eyes from the screen. The film almost feels like a drawing room mystery, but at the same time, it doesn’t. I kept thinking that this was a Miss Marple of the ghost world only to have that thought quashed by what was happening on the screen. Rarely have I watched a film that had such an impact.

When I checked on IMDb for the budget and box office figures, I was dumbfounded by the amounts I was confronted with. I just don’t understand it.

This film is easily on par with The Others, even though the films are really nothing alike. Both films though have the power to drag you into their worlds and leave you gasping when you get to the end.