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PARK CITY - In my review for "Arbitrage" this weekend I mentioned that sometimes films that should debut at Sundance are likely better served with a premiere at Toronto and vice versa. The two major acquisition festivals have their own unique aesthetics and while they try to mix it up now and then the results can sometimes be mind-bogglingly frustrating for audiences. On Friday night, director Rodrigo Cortes returned to Park City two years after his Ryan thriller "Buried" debuted in the Midnight section to big buzz and a Lionsgate pick-up. His new film, "Red Lights," is a slick, entertaining and quirky thriller with fine performances from Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy, but it didn't gel with the Sundance press corps. If it had debuted at Toronto? Many of the same journalists and reviewers would have enjoyed it a bit more.
The film begins with Prof. Margaret Matheson (Weaver) and her colleague Tom Buckley (Murphy) investigating a report of a "haunted" home in the middle of nowhere. One quick "seance" later and Matheson disproves it all showing her adapt skill in seeing the obvious clues that others are distracted by. The audience soon learns that Mattheson teaches a college course on such activity where students played by Olsen and "Submarine's" Craig Roberts take an active interest in her studies. Matheson questions why the young Buckley is wasting his talent as her assistant, but that becomes secondary plot line when a legendary psychic, Simon Silver (De Niro), comes out of retirement after 30 years to a fury of media attention. Matheson tried to discredit Silver years ago, but failed. Why has he returned all these years later and is Matheson on his hit list? Cortes takes the film in some peculiar directions, but wraps it up with an ending most will find surprising. However, unlike most Sundance films, it's has big commercial appeal. Perhaps a bit too much for the Park City regulars.
Sitting with the cast and Cortes the day after the "Red Lights'" premiere, the filmmaker admitted he wrote the role of Prof. Matheson with Weaver in mind. Weaver, who had fun with paranormal activity in the "Ghostbusters" franchise, was touched by the fact that so many people are scammed by fake healers, psychics, etc. But, Cortes, who spent years investigating the phenomena, didn't want to the movie to judge the people who believe in such prophets. You can hear more about the duo's thoughts on "Lights" in the interview embedded at the top of this post.
For Olsen (on back-to-back Sundance trips) and Murphy, it was the appeal of the script, shooting in Barcelona, Spain and Cortes' previous work that made them jump on board. Olsen talks about how intimidated she was to work with the "incredible" Weaver and that she got to sneak out to see another Sundance feature, "Simon Killer," and voted it "bestest film" in the audience awards (director Antonio Campos also just happened to produce her breakout feature "Martha Marcy May Marlene"). You can watch the two stars discuss all things "Red Lights" in the conversation below.
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