Tom (Murphy) is a physicist who works with psychologist Margaret (Weaver) to expose fake psychics. They don't believe that the supernatural exists, much to the annoyance of psychic studies proferssor Paul (Jones). Assisted by students Sally and Ben (Olsen and Roberts), Tom and Margaret debunk noted mentalist Palladino (Sbaraglia) by looking for "red lights", anything that seems suspicious. But when Margaret's old nemesis Simon (De Niro) makes a comeback, she backs down from going after the famed blind showman. And Tom's secret investigation takes some bizarre turns.
Cortes directs with a sure hand, using skilful camerawork and astute editing as well as a heavy-handed sound mix that over-eggs every creep-out with deafening noise. But the anonymous American city setting (it was shot in Barcelona) echoes Nolan's similarly disarming approach, as do the hallways, warehouses and theatres where everything happens. On top of this there's the gimmick of a Ghostbusters cast member, plus a surreal sequence that's like an outtake from Twin Peaks.
The problem is that none of this gels into anything meaningful because Cortes refuses to ground anything in the real world. The over-serious drama is so heightened that we can't believe it, which undermines effective sequences like a genuinely unsettling car-chase. And when events spiral into violence, it simply doesn't ring true, as if scenes were inserted in an attempt to satisfy blood-thirsty audiences who don't care about narrative nuance. So the story isn't nearly as mind-bending as Cortes wants it to be.
Even so, it's thoroughly watchable, thanks to strong actors who create intriguing characters even when they're practically sleepwalking. Weaver gives Margaret a terrific dose of cynicism that's much more interesting than Tom's hot-headed rage. And De Niro underplays his blind man of mystery so that he almost seems to be a ghost. But this means that when he does come out of his shell, it's more than faintly ridiculous. Which kind of describes the overwrought final act as well.
Run time: 113 mins
In Theaters: Friday 2nd March 2012
Box Office USA: $49.3k
Distributed by: Millenium Entertainment
Production compaines: Nostromo Pictures, Cindy Cowan Entertainment, Antena 3 Films, Televisió de Catalunya, Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales (ICAA), La Sexta, Canal+ Espana
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 61
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Producer: Rodrigo Cortes, Adrian Guerra
Screenwriter: Rodrigo Cortes
Starring: Sigourney Weaver as Margaret Matheson, Robert De Niro as Simon Silver, Cillian Murphy as Tom Buckley, Elizabeth Olsen as Sally Owen, Toby Jones as Paul Shackleton, Joely Richardson as Monica Handsen, Karen David as Dana, Craig Roberts as Ben, Burn Gorman as Benedict Cohen, Gina Bramhill as Judi Cale, Jan Cornet as David Matheson, Leonardo Sbaraglia as Palladino, Garrick Hagon as Howard McColm, Jesse Bostick as TV Boy, Jeany Spark as Traci Northrop