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Director and screenwriter Rodrigo Cortés blurs the thin line between perception and reality as two skeptical scientists seek to expose the trickery behind seemingly unexplainable events in his third feature film, ‘Red Lights’. In 2010, Cortés galvanized the film world with his unconventional thriller ‘Buried’, which became a surprise triumph at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to worldwide box-office success. The acclaim the Spanish-born writer and director received enabled him to start work almost immediately on ‘Red Lights’, a project he says had been gestating for some time.
“It gave me the chance to combine two concepts that might seem antithetical,” says Cortés. “This is a genre film with the soul of a political thriller. I was inspired in part by movies like ‘All the President’s Men’, but instead of journalists, we have scientific investigators. It starts with the idea of exposing these hoaxes, then starts to explore the mechanisms of perception in the human brain.”
Cortés was also influenced by what he calls the “subterranean logic” of the novels of the American author and screenwriter Richard Matheson. Perhaps best known for writing ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’, ‘What Dreams May Come’ and ‘I Am Legend’, all of which have been made into feature films, Matheson is also responsible for the legendary “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
“One of the most important things I wanted to capture was the idea that the human brain is not necessarily a tool we can trust,” the director says. “We see what we want to see. Our beliefs are determined by our hopes, needs, dreams and desires. In other words, we believe what we want to believe.”
Cortés’ heroes, Margaret Matheson, played by Sigourney Weaver, and Tom Buckley, played by Cillian Murphy, believe that the world is filled with hucksters and frauds who exploit the hopes and fears of their followers for personal notoriety and financial gain. The pair are experts in detecting the telltale “red lights”—signs of the stagecraft used to pull the wool over the eyes of gullible believers.
Cortés devoted more than a year and a half to the study of paranormal phenomena. “I looked at both sides of the discussion, the side of the scientists and skeptics, as well as the side of the believers and parapsychologists,” he says. “I went through tons of information, images and videos. I attended séances and channeling sessions and talked to many so-called paragnosts, or gifted psychics, who use scientific terms to legitimize their work. What I discovered was that in some ways the two sides are very similar: they each accept only the information that confirms their preconceived ideas and reject everything else. People are prone to believing what is convenient to believe. We start with our beliefs and create the architecture around them.”
Though the film is fictional, many of the characters and events are based on Cortés’ research. “The character of Silver, for example, is not based on any one specific psychic. I used things that I learned about renowned psychics, including Uri Geller, but I also studied politicians and healers and preachers. I also wanted the movie to feel very scientific. A lot of the high-tech equipment used in the film exists in real life.”
‘Red Lights’ stars Academy Award winner Robert De Niro (‘Limitless’, ‘Raging Bull’), Academy award nominee Sigourney Weaver (‘Avatar’, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’), Cillian Murphy (‘28 Days Later’, ‘The Dark Knight’), Elizabeth Olsen (‘Martha Marcy Mae Marlene’, ‘Silent House’), Toby Jones (‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’) and Joely Richardson (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, “Nip Tuck”).
The film is produced by Cortés and Adrián Guerra (‘Apartment 143’).
Image Courtesy of Red Lights