After a career boost he enjoyed thanks to a trilogy featuring a certain ghost faced, pop culture obsessed slasher, Wes Craven’s career seemed to be slipping into the realms of mediocre after a noticably weaker Scream 3, the practically ignored, non-horror project Music Of The Heart and the inhumanly strenuous production of his comedy werewolf movie, the aptly named Cursed. However, as his career seemed to be winding down, he had one little surprise up his sleeve – a slick thriller that, while a million miles away from such grungey indie fare as The Hills Have Eyes and Last House On The Left, still managed to have to teetering on the edge of your seat thanks to the fact that this its tighter that one of Dwayne Johnson’s t-shirts. The movie was plane based thrill-o-matic, Red Eye and despite sounding like another name for conjunctivitis, the literally high concept gets some serious altitude.
Due to the death of her grandmother, hotel manager Lisa Reisert is about to hop on the Red Eye from Dallas to Miami in order to make it back for the funeral. An accommodating sort who is good at handling difficult people and thinking on her feet, Lisa is nevertheless apprehensive about her journey until she bombs into the charming Jackson Rippner, a seemingly stand up, respectful eye with piercing eyes and cheekbones so sharp you could slice cheese with then. After bonding over drinks, they both to to board their flight only to find that – surprise surprise – they’re actually seated next to one another.
So far, so rom-com, but after the plane gets in the air, the charming nature of Jackson begins to harden and those piercing eyes grow colder as it seems that their chance meeting wasn’t by chance at all. Jackson, naughty boy that he is, is actually a domestic terrorist and a bloody good one too and he’s targeted Lisa for a very specific reason – she will use her influence to call her hotel and change the room booking of United States Deputy Secretary Of Homeland Security (isn’t that a title that rolls off the tongue) in order for it to be far easier to assassinate him. If Lisa doesn’t do as she’s asked, then all Jackson has to do is call the man parked outside her father’s house and he’ll calmly knock on the door and put a bullet in his head.
Thus a game of cat and mouse in coach ensues as Lisa desperately tries to find ways to play for time or secretly warn any of the other passengers of her plight, but Jackson proves to be quite the sneaky customer himself, thwarting secret notes and other such ploys that Lisa keeps metaphorically pulling out of her terrified butt.
How on earth is she going to find a way out of this situation and keep everyone alive while trapped on a plane surrounded by stunningly oblivious passengers?
If we’re being brutally honest, Red Eye is the very definition of a single serving film that sees a director responsible for changing the face of an entire genre (at least twice) pulling hack job duty in order to pay the bills, but just because Craven is – well, not selling out, exactly, but definately trying something different, that doesn’t mean that Red Eye isn’t a ton of fun. Embracing the obvious ridiculousness of the situation, Craven opens the film like every other 2000’s quirky romance film you’ve ever seen, amusingly dropping in such tropes as a ditzy employee and a candid view of air travel that hints that the most intimidating thing Lisa can hope for may be the possibility of sitting next to an annoying passenger on an overnight flight. In fact, the movie flat out teases it, having her pick though noisy teens, overweight aisle sitters and smelly food scoffers to find that – lo and behold – she’s actually sitting next to the dashing guy who chatted her up in the airport bar. It’s a great opening and it’s a real shame that Red Eye had to openly advertise itself as a white-knuckle thriller as it could have been a twist of monumental proportions.
From there, Craven is happy to take us through the gripping game of mental chess that ensues thank impressively never cheats by having the characters inexplicably wander down into the baggage hold and keeps them firmly in the passenger section. Of course, this often stretches credulity tighter than the skin of a bongo drum (Are you seriously telling me Jackson could straight up haul off and wallop Lisa hard enough to lay her out for thirty minutes andno one in a crowded plane notices?), but Craven’s obviously having way to much fun to care. Maybe it’s because he’s got a decent budget behind him, maybe he’s rightly enamored of the perky script, or maybe he’s pleased to be on a set for a change that’s not coated from top to bottom in sticky fake blood, but he’s content to let the rollercoaster pace dictate the terms.
He’s ably bolstered by having a damn good cast too with Rachael McAdams slamming all of that impressive likability factor on the screen as she gradually shifts from damsel in distress to a dame of destruction as she simply will not allow her attacker to dictate terms. On the flip side, Cillian Murphy, still fresh from his earth shattering debut in 2002’s 28 Days Later, grasps the Hollywood villain batton and utilizes those crazily intense eye balls of his as he storms to the finishing line with his fabulously caddish antagonist. The verbal jousting is delicious, but Craven is wise enough not to let the movie become too talky despite the fact they’re crammed in surroundings that blatantly has shitty leg room. Involving a revolving door of passengers who fall in and out of their sweat inducing drama, the ruthlessly lean movie (a muscular and trim 86 minutes) never let’s things settle.
Some may gripe that, for a movie that’s primarily set on a plane, the fact that its final showdown is set in Lisa’s father’s house (an underused, but welcome Brian Cox), may feel like something of a cop out, but after such films as A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Serpent And The Rainbow, Shocker and three Scream movies, if anyone knows their way around a third act brawl, it’s Wes fucking Craven. Blowing off the steam of the tense nature of the past hour the kind of stalk and fight he can do in his sleep, Wes even amusingly alludes to his knack of creating distinctive horror baddies by having Jackson reduced to a breath rattling knife wielder due to the recoil-inducing introduction of a pen to his windpipe.
Red Eye was never going to to change the world (jeez, it’ll barely change your weekend) but as single serving, slick thrillers go, Craven’s last best film is a rollicking good time that uses it’s likable/hissable leads and it’s minimalist trappings to thrillingly take flight