Sundance 2012: False start for 'Red Lights'
It's never a good sign when one of the nation's top film critics walks out of the very first screening of your movie at the Sundance Film Festival saying loud enough for everyone in the lobby to hear, "What? What? What?"
But such was part of the unfortunate reaction generated by "Red Lights," a not always scary thriller about paranormal skeptics written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés. Starring Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver as professional debunkers, the movie occupied one of the festival's most coveted slots: Friday night at the cavernous Eccles Theater, with little competition at other venues.
All of the buyers were there, but just 45 minutes into the movie, many of them bolted for the exits, a noisy exodus of dozens of executives. While most of the general, sold-out audience stayed to the film's end, several of the handful of distributors still on hand for the end credits said the film might have a hard time landing a Sundance deal.
If that proves to be the case, it would be a remarkable Park City turn of events for Cortés, who came to the festival in 2010 with Ryan Reynolds starring in his clastrophobic, trapped-in-a-coffin drama "Buried." The movie sold for a hefty $3.2 million, but fizzled in domestic theaters.
"Red Lights" is narratively more ambitious and the production more elaborate, as Murphy and Weaver's characters try to discredit fake psychics, one of whom is played by Robert De Niro. Elizabeth Olsen plays a student of Weaver's at some sort of school that focuses on extra sensory perception, where Toby Jones is also an instructor. Along the way, there are plenty of levitations and secret codes to be revealed and unmasking of frauds.
While there still are more screenings of "Red Lights" to go, the movie may labor once reviews start to roll in. In his production notes for the film, Cortés writes that the film is a "Gordian knot" and "an enigma" where "You think you are standing on solid ground, and then suddenly the earth opens up under your feet."
The buyers may not have braked for "Red Lights," but they probably agreed with that description.
-- John Horn
Photo: Robert De Niro in "Red Lights." Credit: Gustavo Lopez-Mañas