“Red Eye” sees the return of Korean director Kim Dong Bin after a considerable absence following his popular “Ringu” knock off “The Ring Virus” back in 1999. Although his latest effort is not another actual remake, for all practical purposes it may as well be, being a resolutely generic work which follows steadfastly in the footsteps of many others which have come before or since. Still, this need not always be a bad thing, as he proves here, delivering a solid piece of horror cinema which though somewhat uninspiring at least performs well enough according to expectations.
Certainly, the plot is entirely standard stuff, taking place during the last journey of a train which just happens to contain a carriage involved in a dreadful crash back in the 1960s (presumably as part of some radical cost cutting scheme). New attendant Mi Sun (Jang Shin Young, also in “When Springtime Comes”) finds herself in the middle of a series of weird events as the past begins to intrude on the present in suitably threatening and ghostly fashion. Soon enough passengers are disappearing and as the train hurtles onwards it becomes clear that its destination may in fact be DEATH.
Even for the most inexperienced of viewers, “Red Eye” is basically a long list of genre clichés: Unresolved mystery stemming from an accident in the past? Check. Urban legend revolving around ghosts related to said mystery? Check. Plucky female protagonist with murky personal connection to ghosts? Check. Character with the ability to see ghosts? Check. Abundance of flashbacks? Weird visions? Creepy child ghosts? Check, check, check. To be honest, though at least another ten tired plot devices or overused cheap scare techniques could be added, there is little point, not least since most viewers will probably be able to complete the list themselves. However, the good news is that this is one of the rare cases when familiarity does not breed contempt, and the film works very well as a straightforward, unpretentious scareshow, with director Kim showing a good knowledge of horror cinema and of how to give fans what they want, namely plenty of thrills and spills.
In all fairness, “Red Eye” does manage to work in a few twists on the modern Asian ghost formula, mainly in that instead of featuring one vengeful long haired female spectre it deals with possession, and in that as things progress the proceedings take on the feel of a supernatural disaster film. Similarly, to his credit Kim does attempt to utilise a bit of a time fractured narrative, though this really only serves to confuse matters since the viewer is unsure whether the glaringly obvious big revelation is actually supposed to be a secret or not. As such, with the ending and character fates clearly telegraphed from the very start, the film relies entirely on atmosphere for frights, and in this it delivers.
Kim’s direction is tight, and he makes great use of the limited space of the train, employing a good variety of weird camera angles to keep the viewer on edge, switching skilfully between eerily isolated carriages and small claustrophobic compartments. It also helps that the special effects are above average for the genre, and since Kim uses them sparely they certainly work well enough, with a few reasonably innovative death scenes that give the film a slight edge over some of its more anaemic peers.
Of course, all of this doesn’t really add up to much for any viewers who are well and truly fed up with Korean horror, as “Red Eye” by no means actually adds anything to the genre. Still, for aficionados or those who haven’t already suffered a cinematic overdose it stands as one of the better examples from the country over the last few years and shows Kim to be a deft hand when it comes to good, honest scares.
Dong-bin Kim (director)
CAST: Shin-yeong Jang … Oh Mi-sun
Ji-min Kwak … So-hee
Dong-kyu Lee … Jin-kyu
Hye-na Kim … Hee-joo
Eol Lee … Jong-hyun Oh
Hyeon-suk Kim … Jin-sook Jung