Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Cedric Kahn
Stars: Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Carole Bouquet, Vincent Deniard, Jean-Pierre Gos, Carline Paul.
Based on a novel by prolific Belgian crime writer Georges Simenon, Red Lights is a tense road movie with sinister undertones and a slow burning, white-knuckled psychological thriller very much in the style of Hitchcock, who often explored the dark heart of ordinary people trapped in nightmares largely of their own making.
One hot weekend in Paris, a couple heads to the country for a pleasant getaway, planning to pick up their children from summer camp along the way. But even before they hit the road, edgy hubby Antoine (played by character actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin, a regular in the films of Robert Guediguian and recently seen in the epic A Very Long Engagement) is already irritable and has a couple of drinks under his belt. Helene (Carole Bouquet, from Brunel’s classic That Obscure Object Of Desire, etc), his wife and successful lawyer, grows more concerned about Antoine’s behaviour, and the simmering tensions of their strained marriage come to the surface during the long drive, the traffic jams and the increased frustration of the road trip. News reports of fatal car crashes and an escaped convict on the loose add to the increasing air of dread.
After one stop too many for more liquid refreshment, Helene leaves Antoine in a bar and sets out to catch a train to their destination. Anxious to enjoy his new found sense of liberation, Antoine then decides to give a lift to a stranger, who turns out to be the escaped convict and the object of a widespread manhunt. The night grows more ominous as Antoine finds himself out of his depth.
The next morning he wakes up on a deserted road, with only vague memories of the previous night’s desperate encounter. Then the hungover Antoine begins a frantic search for his wife, who never arrived at her destination, and his harrowing series of phone calls to locate her ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels.
Director Cedric Kahn (whose previous films include L’Ennui, and the brutal true crime story of Robert Succo, etc) revels in the morally ambiguous situation in which his flawed protagonist finds himself. He efficiently builds an atmosphere of claustrophobic tension and escalating horror that is reminiscent of Hitchcock at his most menacing. Khan also suffuses the simple material with a nice touch of black humour. The final, chilling denouement is perfectly delivered in Khan’s typically understated fashion, which only heightens its power.
Darroussin has an everyman quality, but his selfish and drunken behaviour does not endear itself to the audience who expect at least a sympathetic protagonist with whom they can empathise. On screen for the whole time, Darroussin brings an almost palpable air of desperation, frustration and guilt to his intense and incredibly dynamic and ultimately brave performance.