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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Red Lights’

Red Lights

I’ll say this about “Red Lights,” the Cillian Murphy- and Robert De Niro-starring thriller that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday night (January 20): I don’t think I’ve talked as much with people about a movie after seeing it since “Inception.”

Which is not to suggest writer/director Rodrigo Cortés’ feature (his follow-up to 2010 fest fav “Buried”) is anywhere near as perfectly conceived and executed as Christopher Nolan’s escapade within the dream world. In fact, “Red Lights” is honestly not a very good movie, though it’s difficult to say why without giving away all the twists, turns and what-the-eff moments.

While there is plenty to admire and scare during the film’s 119-minute running time (and much more to debate afterwards), there remain a handful of unintentionally hilarious moments that left the audience awkwardly laughing in the presence of the film’s talent, plus some head-smacking plot turns and a final montage that manages to be both pretentious and utterly vacuous — not an easy feat.

“Red Lights” begins with a compelling premise and cast of characters. Murphy and Sigourney Weaver play academics specializing in debunking paranormal activity. After a mysterious 30-year absence, De Niro’s world-famous blind psychic emerges back on the scene, drawing Murphy and Weaver into…well, we really should just leave it there. Because “there” is tense, uncomfortable and occasionally jump-out-of-your-seat scary — and it’s best to know as little about the plot specifics as possible.

You might not know much about the plot afterwards either. There are a few twists that make not a lick of sense. There are long stretches of monologue that, when subjected to any sort of Lit-101 scrutiny, crumble under their own substance-free inanity. There are plot strands that are picked up and dropped, especially at the end, seemingly less out of a sense of maintaining mystery than of purely shoddy storytelling.

Murphy, predictably, plays the obsessed investigator with aplomb. Weaver, after all these years, has the sci-gal thing down. De Niro, it seems, will take on any project so long as he gets to deliver a fiery monologue at some point. And Elizabeth Olsen, who was a breakout star at Sundance last year, is given nothing to do and almost less to say as the investigators’ research assistant.

It’s not the performances you’ll be talking about afterwards. It’s the odd choices in supporting cast. It’s the plot twists. It’s the plot holes. It’s the ending. Like it or loathe it, you’ll be talking afterwards. There’s not much more you can ask of a film than that.

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival is officially underway, and the MTV Movies team is on the ground reporting on the hottest stars and the movies everyone will be talking about in the year to come. Keep it locked to MTV Movies for everything there is to know about Sundance.

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