check-in. Perhaps the greatest horror of the modern transport age.
Dealing with long lines, heavy luggage, rude travelers and incessant
delays are just some of the exhausting trials contemporary America
goes through to get to our destination. It is against this familiar
backdrop that we enter "Red Eye," the latest film by legendary
horror merchant Wes Craven, whose last few films have been forced by
the Government to open in bomb shelters, where their explosive
mediocrity wouldn't harm innocent civilians foolish enough to see
"Red Eye's" lead is the radiant Rachel McAdams
("The Notebook"), who plays Lisa, a fast talking hotel manager
returning to Miami on the last flight out of Dallas. While checking
in for her flight she meets a handsome stranger named Jackson
Rippner (played by reigning über creep Cillian Murphy, "Batman
Begins"). Rippner seems quite nice at first, even gallantly
stepping in when another traveler gets out of line with Lisa. What
seems to be a simple chance encounter becomes curious happenstance
when Lisa runs into Rippner again at the bar across from her
More small talk ensues over a couple of drinks
as Rippner proves to be disarmingly charming, flirting harmlessly
about Lisa's favorite cocktail and his unfortunate name. The two
even end up sitting next to each other on the plane, but this
fortuitous meeting quickly turns into something sinister, and Lisa's
fear of flying becomes something much worse than she could have ever
imagined, as the amiable Rippner reveals himself to be more
frightening than the turbulence they are flying through. It turns
out Rippner is the manager of a complex scheme involving the Deputy
Secretary of Homeland Security, and Lisa is an important cog in that
Wes Craven is a director who, with the
exception of the mainstream misstep "Music of the Heart," has been
synonymous with gory slasher films. With "Red Eye", Craven steers
off squarely in the direction of a straightforward thriller, with no
ghouls, ghosts and gore in sight. So, has Craven lost his way?
Absolutely not. All those years of trying to make us scream (not to
mention all three "Scream"
films) has taught Craven a thing or two about generating tension and
suspense. It's a given that the premise of "Red Eye" is a bit far
fetched, with Rippner's chosen method to achieve his goal being the
most suspect. However, the script is smart and moves along swiftly,
barely allowing any time for the audience to contemplate the film's
obvious logical flaws.
Whatever the script's shortcomings may be, they are easily
overlooked due to the riveting performances of McAdams and Murphy.
McAdams in particular is a real find and destined for a strong
career. Already blessed with natural beauty, McAdams demonstrates
strong acting chops to back up her looks. Thrillers usually tempt
actors into overacting, but McAdams keeps her character believable
throughout. The same can be said for Murphy, last seen as the
equally creepy Dr. Crane (aka The Scarecrow) in Christopher Nolan's
"Batman Begins." Murphy continues to impress in conveying controlled
madness, and does more acting with his eyes than most actors do with
their whole bodies. At the moment where Rippner's true intentions
are revealed, Murphy transforms from amiable to pure evil with the
slightest droop of his cheeks. It's absolutely brilliant.
perhaps the best part of "Red Eye" is its simplicity. This is a
thriller pared down to the basic elements, with no flashy camera
moves, no big explosions (okay, one big explosion) and no extended
chases (okay, one extended chase). For the most part "Red Eye" is
just two characters going head to head in a game of mental
one-upsmanship. Craven keeps the tension high by keeping the camera
focused tightly on the two leads, and by keeping the majority of the
action contained within the claustrophobic confines of an airplane.
Even when the action turns terrestrial, the tension and sense of
immediacy never lets up.
The reason "Red Eye" works is because we've all
been there. We identify with Lisa's situation, and have suffered the
mental anguish of soldiering through a crowded airport only to be
trapped in a cramped coach seat next to someone we'd rather not be
sitting next to. The final act transitions from taught thriller to
full-on slasher, but even here Craven keeps a tight leash on the
proceedings, with no superhuman feats of strength or unfathomable
coincidence to help the movie cross the finish line.