Director explores paranormal in ‘Red Lights’ 

click to enlarge Psychological thriller: From left, Cillian Murphy, Rodrigo Cortés and Sigourney Weaver appear at a screening of “Red Lights,” a film about psychic phenomena. - GETTY IMAGE FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Image File Photo
  • Psychological thriller: From left, Cillian Murphy, Rodrigo Cortés and Sigourney Weaver appear at a screening of “Red Lights,” a film about psychic phenomena.

While working on his new horror-mystery “Red Lights,” Spanish-born filmmaker Rodrigo Cortés walked a fine line between the real and the unexplained.

In the movie, which opens Friday, Cillian Murphy, as a man who works with a paranormal investigator (Sigourney Weaver) takes it upon himself to explore, what happened to a famous psychic (Robert De Niro) who became a recluse.

Cortés, who made the film “Buried,” says he researched the topic for a year and a half, studying views of both skeptics and believers.

“Both behave in a very similar way,” says Cortés, recently in The City on a promotional tour with Murphy. “No matter what they claim to do, they only accept what confirms their previous positions, and they reject everything else.”

Of the psychic phenomena he read about, he says, more than 90 percent was fake, and 1 percent resisted explanation. He says he does not believe in the supernatural, because he feels that nature cannot be transcended.

Yet he adds, “But if you ask me if I believe in the paranormal, then absolutely — I would consider that phenomena in search of an explanation. I’m only interested in trying to understand.”

Murphy, the blue-eyed Irish actor perhaps best known for his role as the Scarecrow in “Batman Begins,” was fascinated by his character — a skeptic who nevertheless is interested in magic tricks.

“He’s a contradiction, as all great characters are,” he says. “We talk about the way magicians operate and the classics of misdirection, and I think that this film does that.”

Murphy performs several classic stage tricks in the movie. “They’re not too fancy,” he says. “I learned them off YouTube. There are all these channels with all these 11-year-old kids teaching you how to do it.”

Another trick Cortés pulled off: Making his $15 million movie, with its three big stars, look like a
$50 million film.

“In my experience, an actor is willing to jump from the 18th floor. He just wants to know that there’s a net below,” Cortés says. “So you only make things that you truly believe in.”

Murphy says he took the job without specific, concrete details about the role at the outset: “We discussed the ending, but never in literal terms. You should have your own take on what it means.”

Cortés adds, “As a storyteller, you don’t want to say 1+1 is 2. You just want to say 1+1. The audience knows how to count.”

Red Lights

  • Starring Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Olsen
  • Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortes
  • Rated R
  • Running time 1 hour 53 minutes

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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