Black Mass  (2015)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     122 Min        15

Detailing the exploits from the mid-seventies onwards of infamous Boston mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), directed by Scott Cooper (‘Crazy Heart’ 09, ‘Out of the Furnace‘) and written by Jez Butterworth (‘Edge of Tomorrow‘, ‘Spectre‘) and Mark Mallouk in his screenwriting debut, ‘Black Mass’ feels from start to finish like a poor man’s ‘The Departed’ (06), as we simply watch brutal killing after brutal killing take place at either the bequest or the hands of the protagonist, with the ludicrously overt antics of a complicit FBI agent as the only real countermeasure to the bloodshed, bar a few moments with Bulger’s young son and wife (Dakota Johnson) where the film finds some rare flashes of humanity.

It’s a vile film, gritty to be sure, but with nothing more than Bulger killing everyone that slights him as the heart of the piece it becomes difficult to the see any point to the movie other than a warning not to get involved with psychopaths. Joel Edgerton plays FBI agent John Connolly, who manages to persuade his boss (Kevin Bacon) and colleagues (David Harbour and Adam Scott) that bringing in Bulger as an informant is a totally sweet idea and that his childhood friendship with the man in question isn’t in any way a conflict of interests. If it wasn’t true, you would never believe it, but the way Connolly comes across onscreen wouldn’t sell to the least discerning of officials, never mind the Bureau.

Johnny Depp gives a, much touted, thoroughly transformative performance as Bulger, but this is exactly what Depp has being doing his entire career really – even recently in films that underperformed like ‘The Lone Ranger‘ and ‘Mortdecai‘, where the media largely ignored his work and preferred to lay claim to his career being over instead, and even though it’s a noteworthy turn the especially dark writing and material are unlikely to do him many favours come awards season. Indeed, there’s no immediate reason for the movie’s title other than its story representing a relentless physical amalgam of disturbing and pathological violence.

Crimson Peak  (2015)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     119 Min        15

Visually rich and well acted but lacking in almost every other department, Guillermo del Toro’s latest after ‘Pacific Rim‘ is a fairly traditional take on the horror genre with a 19th century haunted house mystery, except pointless gore predominates where there ought to be suspense and, critically, the entire premise is undermined by poor writing from the very offset. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, the virginal, one presumes, young beauty about to come to the attention of one Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and the cardinal sin of the screenplay is that it lets us know these two are up to no good all the way through, with nothing about their ultimate purpose proving to be very interesting nor surprising.

The sets and costumes are impressive enough, and as with the director’s other work he has overly committed to the aesthetic, albeit successfully, whilst not paying nearly enough attention to the storytelling (he was joined by Matthew Robbins for the screenplay). Everything simply plods along delivering nothing we haven’t seen before, apart from perhaps ghosts with all their flesh still on but minus the skin, simply for ‘shock’ value, all dancing around the loose thread of the siblings trying to mine the grounds around their crumbling English manor for the lucrative minerals in the earth surrounding it, and travelling to the States in the beginning to petition Edith’s business magnate father for investment. Fans of both horror and del Toro are likely to be disappointed, although the latter probably won’t completely hate it at least.

Jurassic World  (2015)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     124 Min        12A

Daring to hope for some originality in the script for this, the fourth film in the series after ‘Jurassic Park’ (93), ‘The Lost World’ (97) and the less imaginatively titled ‘Jurassic Park 3’ (01), was perhaps asking for too much really, as the exact same storyline from the previous films is played out once again. Taking place twenty years after the events of the original, which was one of the most successful films of all time, we are back on the same island just off Costa Rica, which has long since put tragedy behind it and become the thriving titular theme park attraction of Jurassic World, where young and old alike can enjoy the thrill of watching real life dinosaurs tear chunks of flesh apart in a feeding frenzy, safe in the knowledge that Plexiglas and the best and brightest of human engineering and ordinance will protect them from the little beasties, or will it ….

Bryce Dallas Howard plays head park manager Claire Dearing with Chris Pratt as rugged animal trainer Owen Grady, who must save the day together but to be honest they seem more akin to a sixties version of Tarzan and Jane than believable characters in their environment (there is an obligatory potential budding romance between them). The impetus behind everything is super-dino Indominus Rex, which has been genetically modified and spliced with pretty much everything from an amoeba to a budgie to make it super intelligent and super scary, in fact it’s easily smarter than all of the humans in charge, but the story never properly gets past the fact that it’s still just one solitary and fairly sizeable creature (a T-Rex was in the mix, naturally) that ought to be pretty easy to sort out with all the hardware at the island’s disposal. The rest of the story is one massive fudge just to keep the decidedly carnivorous ball rolling, including a smaller and also not great arc involving Owen’s imprinting on a Velociraptor pack as its alpha. Difficult sell that one really, though it’s still a massive improvement on the bit in ‘The Lost World’ where the little girl drop-kicks a raptor in the face resulting in its complete annihilation, if memory serves.

The central characters are further rounded out by two kids Zach (Nick Robinson) and Grey (Ty Simpkins) who are even more two dimensional than the adults and seem to exist purely to be put in not very believable peril. They are, of course, the nieces of Ms Dearing and as such she wilfully abandons her duty to try and protect the many thousands of other people on the island to go chasing after them in the hope of avoiding many awkward Thanksgiving moments in the future, in fact nobody seems terribly concerned with the masses of visitors – not even the tourists themselves. Indeed, there’s no real bite, ahaha, to any of the suspense and too many parts of the story simply don’t add up. Films one and two were directed by Steven Spielberg, who was a producer for this one, but here relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow (‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ 2012) takes the helm and shares writing credits with Derek Connolly, Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, although the four worked on multiple drafts over the years. The actors do the best they can with what they’re given (though I fear they didn’t exactly make the most of Irish hottie Katie McGrath’s talents) and although it’s largely disappointing, it still delivers on the spectacle front and the effects are worthy of the film. The best part is the theme tune from the first one.

The film’s release coincides with the announcement of a new dinosaur species found in Wales which is quite excitng, though they have yet to find any dragon fossils, largely because we are simply hiding amongst you all. Like in ‘Highlander’ (86), but with dragons. Our eyes are everywhere …

Serena  (2014)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     109 Min        15

Based on the novel by Ron Rash, Susanne Bier (‘Love is All You Need‘) directs a tale of corruption, tragic love, and jealousy on a timber yard in the Smoky Mountains (though it was actually predominantly filmed in the Czech Republic) of North Carolina in the 1930’s. Bradley Cooper runs the yard, against the protestations of various environmentalists, and one day happens upon the inimitably beautiful Jennifer Lawrence, whom he decides should immediately become his bride. She lost her family under tragic circumstance so decides why not, but she soon proves a force to reckon with in the business world and it’s not long before various feathers are more than ruffled.

Initially there seems to be precious little point to the film as it dawdles along with nothing really happening – in fact, it’s only when Lawrence appears that the very force of her own personality as well as that of her character make it more interesting. The acting from her companions is equally strong, in particular perhaps Rhys Ifans (and not for the first time it took me a little while to be certain it was actually him – I managed to watch the whole of ‘Anonymous’ 11 without identifying him he was that good in it) and the human tragedy level continues to painfully rise amongst the austere, barren and rather isolated backdrop of the wintry logging site. The costumes and sets are up to scratch with the performances but sadly it is the basic story and its execution that undo all the other good work on display, turning the story into melodramatic mulch and effectively ruining the whole film. Marks the third release after ‘Silver Linings Playbook‘ and ‘American Hustle‘ to have Cooper and Lawrence working together, indeed it was reportedly the leading lady herself that sent Cooper the script for this, for which I am sure he is eternally grateful.

The Giver  (2014)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                       97 Min        12A

Bland, and almost self-defeatingly too simple, this may yet satisfy some of its intended early teenage audience, although it certainly pales in comparison with the much more adroit adaptations of other teen franchises like ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012) and ‘Divergent‘. Based on Lois Lowry’s hugely successful 1993 novel of the same name, which spawned three sequels and found its way onto the recommended reading list of many primary schools, expectations were understandably high for this relatively late translation to the big screen, especially considering the casting of acting goliaths Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges – although Streep’s role is almost identical to Kate Winslet’s in Divergent, in that she plays the female authoritarian at the helm of a dystopian future human civilisation and her actual screen time is very limited.

Bridges plays the ageing and indeed retiring ‘Giver’ in this society, whose role had been to experience human emotion, vitality and creativity in all its wonder and devilry in a community where the other humans do not experience any of what we would take for granted – rather, theirs is the loss of individual identity for the gain of being part of a cohesive unit. Also operating as a retainer of the memories of mankind, the Giver’s role is partly to just exist in case the others should require access to the wisdom he is a custodian of and so he has a unique role to play in their world, yet it is one also fraught with peril and secrecy and the time has come for the passing of the torch onto a younger candidate – Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who must come to deal with the socially isolating nature of the work chosen for him by the state, and also contrast what he learns with the neutered bliss that everyone else seems to think they are living in – then there’s the mystery of what happened to the previous hopeful for the job, and what could lie beyond the edges of their known world … (they live in isolation in the clouds, much like on the tepui of southern Venezuela)

Visually, seasoned director Phillip Noyce (‘The Quiet American’ 02, ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’ 02, ‘Salt’ 10) has decided to show us the world as Jonas initially sees it, so a huge early section of the film is in black and white before Jonas experiences colour for the first time, and although there is a logic to the decision it isn’t great for the audience and will doubtless leave those unfamiliar with the plot thinking perhaps something has gone wrong with the screen. The story has so much potential scope and yet what the film delivers is entirely humdrum – the not in the least bit surprising conclusion trundles towards us with a number of ropey moments, chief amongst them what a baby is subjected to at one point and unreasonably survives, and it seems fair to say that the novel offers more than this does – when we see Taylor Swift appear as one of the secondary characters the priority for financial success over artistry seems clear. At times an easy distraction, but it certainly should have been something more than that.

The Twilight Saga : Breaking Dawn Part Two  (2012)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     115 Min        12A

‘Breaking Dawn – Part Two’ is a reasonably fulfilling conclusion to the Twilight Saga. Unfortunately, it suffers massively from the decision to separate the story from the final novel into two films. It begins with Kristen Stewart exploring her new found ‘self’ and then builds toward the inevitable climax, but everything else, including the central love triangle and vampiric dilemma, has already been resolved. You could literally edit out an entire hour from part two and not miss anything, apart from some of the nice scenic shots which feature throughout. In fact, the cinematography has been chosen to directly mirror the red, white and black colours of the book covers and it works pretty well as a direct tie in, and although a little more flare to properly define it in its own right may not have gone amiss it still creates an impressive atmosphere and background.

Diehard fans of the series upset at it all coming to a close may be consoled by the fact that the makers of the films have been in talks to possibly continue the story beyond that of ‘Breaking Dawn – Part Two’, but regardless, this finale will be largely remembered for one particular, unique moment. There was a palpable reaction in the cinema from the midnight audience viewing it, and whether or not you enjoy the film will largely hinge on how you feel about it. The Red Dragon, although not familiar with the books, considers it a rather brave decision given the popularity of the franchise. Indeed, a reel of classic film excerpts shown at this year’s Oscars ceremony featured a clip from Twilight and although it first seemed a little odd, it was justified given its extraordinary fan base and success, and most people whether they admit it or not will probably find something to like amongst the five film saga. The Red Dragon’s own opinion is that he rather enjoyed the carnage….

The Beatles Magical Mystery tour  (1967)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                       55 Min        PG

The Beatles psychedelic patchwork of seemingly incongruent ideas and visual oddities was released nationally on the BBC on boxing day of 1967 and it caused an immediate small furore, departing radically as it did from many people’s image of the Beatles as clean cut nice young boys as well as straying from any familiar sort of storytelling. It follows the loose story arc of a group of people, including the Beatles themselves, albeit in character, boarding a bus for a mystery tour that takes them around the English countryside and eventually to Cornwall.

It’s quite fun, and the suffusion with their music of the period and the wonderful colours throughout (it’s recently been restored and digitally remastered, which doubtless ‘helps’) makes it very easy to watch and to allow one’s mind to meander as the experimental film unabashedly progresses. The Red Dragon’s main complaint with the film is that it’s way too short!

In preparation for the film, the whole of the storyboarding procedure comprised of a single pie chart, with each part of the film occupying one wedge (some parts were idea-less and simply filled in with a smiley face). It’s impossible not to see the imprint of drugs throughout everything, which doubtless had many concerned parents outraged, but there are bad trips in there as well as good ones. Parents had good cause for concern, the Beatles were leaders in the counter revolution not just in the UK but in America too and, by osmosis, many other parts of the world (the spelling of their name is a reference to the ‘beat generation’). This film is a fascinating footnote, not just of the story of the Beatles, but perhaps the story of drugs in rock and roll in general.

At the planning stage their producer Brian Epstein, sometimes referred to as the fifth Beatle, showed a lot of interest and eagerness at getting the project off the ground, perhaps desperate to get his teeth stuck into a new project since the Beatles were on a small hiatus at the time. Whilst the Beatles have maintained their image of experimenting with drugs and coming out afterwards unharmed (though that is debatable), producing some great music and having a pretty good time doing it, Brian Epstein died of a drug overdose before the film was begun. It’s a dark shadow that contrasts vividly with the luminous greens and purples of their Magical Mystery Tour, and one that is often eclipsed by their successful and iconic status, intermingled with acid trips and narcotic inspirations – but there it remains, the other side of the same coin.

Red Lights  (2012)    58/100

Rating : 58/100                                                                       114 Min        15

In Brief : Interesting, with strong performances all round by the cast, but ultimately let down by a screenplay with more than a few oversights.

Contents :
Mini Review
Full Review

Mini Review : ‘Red Lights’ is a film that needed enigmatic performances from its lead cast and an intelligent, intriguing screenplay in order to succeed. It definitely scores a thumbs up in the first category, but is left lacking in the second with a less than polished final product. The whole has a sort of early eighties feel to it, and the tension mounts as we follow the main characters on their crusade to explore and disprove the paranormal. But then it kind of stutters along, and delivers a less than awe inspiring finale. Although the main story arc looses momentum and is at times a little dubious there are still a few nice touches to enjoy here, but on the whole it feels like it’s ambling in the footsteps of similar fiction before it rather than portraying a bold vision of its own.

Plot : Margaret Matheson and Tom Buckley are two university colleagues who have a mandate to debunk supernatural phenomena. Their work progresses successfully until the return to the scene of one of the world’s most high profile claimants of supernatural gifts. For one, he is a spectre of the past, and one that should be left there; for the other, he represents the ultimate challenge.

Full Review (Contains spoilers) : Robert De Niro, Cillian Murphy, and Sigourney Weaver star in this tale of fraud and supernatural realisation from Spanish writer and director Rodrigo Cortes, following on from the success of his ‘Buried’ with Ryan Reynolds in 2010 (not on writing duty in that instance). The story begins with Murphy and Weaver’s characters (Tom Buckley and Margaret Matheson respectively) exposing a séance and incumbent medium as bunk. Initially, we the audience are unsure as to what we are about to be treated to, whether or not Sigourney Weaver may be playing a sort of ‘super psychic’, as becoming of her acting calibre, brought in to help with this super scary, difficult case. It becomes apparent after this séance that she, and her physics graduate-sidekick Tom, work in academia exposing such hocussing professionally. It allows the director to play with familiar horror film techniques, something which he continues to do in parallel with the story; playing it off against Robert De Niro’s Simon Silver and whether or not he has real psychic abilities, and is thus the exception to the rule. Indeed, in this sense the beginning, and to a lesser extent the whole, is very similar to ‘The Awakening’ released last year (with a wonderful turn by the rising star that is Rebecca Hall).

This question regarding Silver’s legitimacy forms then the crux of the piece. The two protagonists are given a little more depth, mostly via relation to their profession. We learn Tom’s mother may have been given a bogus medical diagnosis from a psychic and died from it, but then later he refers to his mother, to someone else, in the present tense. Matheson’s back story gives the plot a little more meaning, as we see her son lying in a vegetative state in hospital and she tells us the nature of her work doesn’t allow her to give up hope and turn off the machine as she has no evidence or faith that anything awaits us in the afterlife. We also learn she has met Silver in a televised interview thirty years ago and during it he made reference to her hospitalised son, making even her want to believe for a moment. She uses this anecdote to emphasise how dangerous he is to Tom, who seems to be becoming obsessed with exposing Silva as a fraud to the world.

This back story proves interesting, as even though De Niro and Weaver never meet onscreen we are given the distinct impression that their characters’ pasts are a little more involved than we are being told. Perhaps Matheson witnessed something so awesome at the hands of Silver, that she felt compelled to begin a saga to disprove every seemingly supernatural phenomenon, unable to come to terms with what she witnessed. Or perhaps Silver met his match with Matheson, fell in love with her, or even sensed some latent dangerous talent in her akin to his own. It is even possible that he is Buckley’s father, or there is a much more sinister and earthly secret between them. The final answer comes as a misdirected mixture of some of these things, but the acting talents of Weaver and De Niro make the dynamic compelling.

For Tom, he is set up as the naïve headstrong apprentice heading for disaster, a concept not particularly original but nevertheless a wonderfully compelling artifice of storytelling. He is given a love interest in the form of Elizabeth Olsen, a young undergrad in Matheson’s class. It’s unfortunately a completely frivolous and pointless role whose only purpose is to provide a sounding board for some background conversation and, perhaps, a pretty young girl for male members of the audience to look at. Doubly unfortunate for Miss Olsen as this follows directly on from ‘Silent House’ (11), a bad remake of an already terrible Spanish film ‘La Casa Muda’ (10), where the audience were invited to look down her top and nowhere else for pretty much the entirety of the film. Her breasts did perform their role quite admirably, and here she herself does likewise so expect to see more from her in the future, though hopefully with more of an involving role next time.

Further support is given from Toby Jones, a research scientist at the university whose department gets way more funding than Matheson’s and is placed as countermeasure to herself, trying to scientifically prove supernaturalism rather than disprove it. Toby Jones is an incredibly prolific, diverse actor (see his own take on Capote in ‘Infamous’ 06) and he is as usual good here, though again the role is solely in service of the narrative. Cillian Murphy himself gives a convincing performance throughout, complete with what looks a pretty skilful coin flourish, although, thanks to poor camera direction, his magic tricks look less than convincing. Joely Richardson also makes an appearance as Silver’s PA, infusing the role with sex appeal as she does so well, but again, despite adding a little more glamour, the role is entirely 2D and very short (The Red Dragon would like to personally confirm that Joely Richardson is as alluring in real life as she is onscreen).

Before the Silver story really gets going we see the myth busting duo expose a would be psychic in a theatre full of people – breaking into the blacked out box next to theirs where radio messages were being sent to the performer below, who had been busy achieving the seemingly impossible task of knowing private information about random people in the audience. Earlier in the car park outside they pilfer the notebook of one of the performer’s accomplices who seemed to be taking down registration numbers, no doubt to look up information about the vehicles owners and cross reference it with ticket sales. It’s interesting, because although here it is in the context of fake faith healers, and results in criminal prosecution for the perpetrators, this doubtless has parallels with how many perform stage magic today. Derren Brown, for example, commonly seems to pull information from random audience members’ heads, and also mysteriously matches seat numbers to the same people as their introduction. It would be interesting to take a good, close look at the legal context of purchasing a theatre ticket, and the information you give out at the time …

In any event it’s a good scene for the film. When in jail, the con artist tells the zealous Tom to beware of Silver, his mentor, as he has no idea what he is meddling with, increasing the sense of danger and power that De Niro’s character is given to exude; a sense that De Niro is expertly able to deliver. From here we are led to the most interesting part of the film, when the headstrong Mr Buckley decides to go it alone and head back to what appears to be the same box in the same theatre in order to hopefully expose Silver as an artful deceiver. Though this does seem to be a rather dubious theatrical booking, given his understudy was arrested on the very same stage for falsely doing pretty much exactly what Silver is proffering to do mere days/weeks previously.

During this particular performance all eyes are on Silver on centre stage, as an overweight patient is wheeled out on a small operating table, fleshy belly and midriff exposed, and he seems to achieve a small miracle – reaching into the flesh of the man before him and pulling out the bloodied, diseased tissue inside, then somehow closing the wound with his powers and leaving the prone body cured and healthy. When performed on stage this trick almost certainly makes use of a false stomach. Here the audience is wowed, but the scene continually cuts to an increasingly desperate Tom, who is beavering away with his radio equipment as it randomly begins to explode in bursts around him, as if Silver’s cognitive special powers can sense the attempt and they take action. Though the fact real psychic abilities would not need to protect themselves leads us to think it is simply sabotage. All of this though, is not what makes it so interesting. What makes it worthy of special note, is that The Red Dragon has seen this before.

Bizarrely, almost this entire, complete scene appears in an old issue of Spiderman. Now, exactly what issue, or indeed exactly which comic, The Red Dragon isn’t sure, and can’t be without going on a particularly involved search … actually the wonders of the web (no pun intended) have revealed it was in fact ‘Web of Spiderman’ issue 41, ‘The Cult of Love part 2’, if anyone wants to check it out and test my hypothesis then please do, as The Red Dragon freely admits he is working on a many years old memory here. This issue was part two of a four part story that seen Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spiderman, join a cult in order to try and rescue a girl who had become indoctrinated by them. I never got hold of the subsequent edition so never found out how it ended, but during the story Parker is seated in an auditorium watching the exact same procedure being carried out.

The panels of the story clearly show the performer’s hands going into the flesh, coming out bloodied, and then the same flesh washed and mysteriously healed, with fresh water on it just as in the film. In the comic Parker begins to doubt himself as a narrative voice-over tells us such shows are how cults groom their members, daring even the inquisitive and intelligent to believe. Although in the film Tom appears to be preoccupied, the suggestion is still that the performance and the increasingly paranormal activity surrounding it (the whole building begins to tremble) are sucking him in and begin to take a noticeable toll on his mental health, as what his eyes witness clashes so dramatically with the faith he has instilled in his career proving such things to be false. Although this is purely working from memory, the images of the comic and the film are graphically so similar in my mind it seems difficult to imagine one was not influenced by the other.

Interestingly, in each of the three interviews The Red Dragon has seen with Cillian Murphy and Rodrigo Cortes together, Cortes makes mention of the fact he spent a year and a half doing research for the film. Every time he says this, there is a noticeable shift in the expression of Cillian Murphy – is this because he’s slightly bored? Or because he knows this is somewhat misleading or bombastic? Did Cortes simply spend a year and a half reading Spiderman comics and watching spooky films? It’s not plagiarism per se, and certainly such shows in real life no doubt look very similar to the ones depicted in the comic and film, but it is perhaps a little too similar to the inspirational material for its own good, just as the beginning is too close to that of ‘The Awakening’.

From this point on the supernatural element of the film intensifies dramatically. Tom ends up in hospital after the show, then discovers that mysteriously Matheson has died whilst he was there. We learn that the rational explanation for this is a pre-existing medical condition, and indeed we have seen her taking some form of medication throughout. All manner of strange things occur around Buckley, including semi-explosive birds and bodily ceiling suspension. Beginning to lose the plot, his determination to find the truth deepens and he even attempts to confront Silver at one of his secret one-to-one sessions. Cue another nice scene where Tom is separated from Silver by what appears to be a line of salt on the floor, and he sits in awe of the mystic, afraid to speak out lest he give his identity away, and yet the enigmatic Silver seems to know anyway. The finale ensues with Silver undergoing a series of scientific tests and then putting on his last show in the city, and a desperate Tom adamant to prove fraud in the former as he heads for a showdown in the latter.

Here all the big revelations are unveiled, as Tom is beaten up by a paid heavy in the toilets at the show, proving to us that Silver is a fake (and prompting us to wonder if the untimely death of his main public enemy years ago was in fact murder), just as his friends at the university uncover falsity in the earlier experiment. The main aspect of this is that Silver is in fact not blind, something the characters have taken for granted but we have been invited to question early on when the camera gives us a close-up of his eyes and, given the whole thing is a question over his legitimacy, the obvious thing to ask is, well how do we know he is actually blind to begin with? The narrative offers us no hardcore evidence, he certainly appears to be, but then he is a showman. This revelation may also seem a bit of a let down not just because of its set up and delivery, but also because of the success of ‘The Prestige’ back in 2006, replete as it was with such disguises and showmanship. When Tom flicks a coin at him on stage to test him and he catches it, revealing his normal ability to see to the world, it’s a little too easy, surely he would have had the wherewithal to simply ignore it and let it sail past him?

Having said that, he is distracted at the time by the complimentary revelation of Tom’s actual supernatural powers as the whole place begins to shake, much as it did the last time around. Silver shouts repeatedly ‘How are you doing this?’ but surely a professional supernatural fraud such as himself would simply run with it? It could well be a trick not too dissimilar to one of his own. We come to learn the real story has been that of Tom, who has long suspected there was something different about himself, but who was unwilling to accept it, and instead devoted his life to disproving such fantasies. The anecdote he told about his mother, may or may not have something to do with himself, just as Matheson’s death and illness may similarly have something to do with him.

Indeed, his power seems to be haphazardly destructive, increasing when he’s under stress. One of the most curious incidents of its manifestation happens when news of Silver’s return to the scene has been announced and Matheson answers the phone. No one seems to be on the other end, and when she returns to the mug she’d left to take the call, the spoon in it is bent. She doesn’t seem too fussed by this. So we know very early on supernatural forces are at work and from this it points to either Silver, Matheson, or both. But Tom? Why the spoon? It’s nowhere near the phone and nothing else seems affected – does Matheson not react because she’s used to spoons randomly bending and thinks it’s normal? It works for the story at that point, but, well it’s a bit too silly and random.

Similarly, early on Matheson is questioned during a lecture on her beliefs and the possibility of real psychic phenomenon. She replies with the very sound point that real life and nature can often be fantastical enough. She uses the case of Beethoven composing whilst deaf as one example, but it’s interesting when we consider the wealth of information that science is now uncovering about ourselves and the universe we live in. Biologists have come to realise that an organism can evolve significantly within its own lifetime but are only just beginning to unravel the secrets of the human genome and all its potential. Physicists have discovered the best evidence yet to prove the existence of the Higgs-Boson particle, showing we’re making huge leaps forward in terms of understanding our world, yet also illustrating just how much we still don’t know and just how much we are intimately connected to the micro and macro world around us. After all, atoms in our bodies were once at the hearts of stars burning away, stars which themselves came from one infinitesimally small point in existence, or perhaps, more correctly, non-existence. Put in this context, the spooky goings on in Red Lights are pretty lame.

It is perhaps worthy to note on the fact that filmmakers invariably portray the supernatural as a dark and sinister force, partly the essence of horror films, partly maybe our natural fear of the unknown. Yet, we as a species floating in space are so fragile that it would hardly take anything at all to wipe us out. Alien virus. Dead. Asteroid. Dead. Alien invasion by pretty much any alien species capable of space travel we can think of. Dead. Ghosts that can hurt people. Dead. (Like the ghosts in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ – why didn’t they just recruit them in the beginning? They’re indestructible! ‘Hmm, what do we have to bargain with… I suppose we have the only living being that can free them from eternal slavery. Hmm… or we could give the ring to two hobbits, take an enormous gamble, and sacrifice half of the population of Middle Earth. Decisions, decisions…’).

It might not be ridiculous to draw a conclusion from this that the universe is actually a fairly benevolent place for life, and that rather than waste time worrying about all the ways it could end, we should simply enjoy it. I suppose you could argue if it was really looking out for us we’d be impervious to disease and fire etc. but perhaps it likes us needing to look out for one another. To bring us back to the point, mental trickery of the sort going on here still very much remains science fiction to us, but who knows, in the future perhaps there will be a quantum understanding of the likes of deja vu as we unlock the mysteries of the mind, and just as once upon a time seeing a rainbow must have felt like seeing a snapshot of some godly realm, and we can now produce the same effect from a simple prism, perhaps one day seemingly improbable tricks of the mind will be child’s play.

The director has stated he wants ‘Red Lights’ to ask questions, and it does stay with you afterward quite well and linger on. However, this has more to do with the cast and the cinematography which succeed in creating a distinctive sense of something, but a something that is ultimately hollow and too ill defined by a randomly whimsical screenplay that is creative on its surface only. A film like this should have people wanting to see it again, armed with full knowledge of the story, but it’s let down by an underlying structure simply not crafted well enough to ever allow it to work on the grand scale it aims at. Decent, but a shame it isn’t better.