Red Eye (2005)

Wes Craven has long been a thriller/horror director, from the original A Nightmare on Elm Street to the iconic 90s slasher Scream. In 2005, he released Red Eye, a claustrophobic thriller that relies on its two young leads to make the most of its simple premise.

Rachel McAdams plays Lisa, a hotel manager who hates to fly. She’s about to hate it a lot more, thanks to the very menacing Jackson (played by Cillian Murphy) and his icy blue eyes. In perhaps the most contrived terrorist plot ever, Jackson threatens Lisa during a red eye flight to Miami with a choice: She can call her hotel and move the director of Homeland Security into a specific room so that Jackson’s employers can kill him, or she can have her father killed by an associate of Jackson if she doesn’t make that call.

When Lisa first meets Jackson, waiting for their delayed flight, he’s quite a charmer. He buys her a drink before they get on the plane and realize that they sit right next to each other. It’s not until the plane has taken off and there’s nowhere to go that Murphy transitions perfectly from mysterious and intriguing to psychotic and ruthless.

Craven builds on the naturally tight setting of an airplane with extremely close shots, especially on Murphy’s face as he intimidates his victim with murderous stares. The bulk of the film takes place on the plane ride, and it’s here where it’s at its best. Tons of suspense and tension, and although the other passengers are given the minimalest of roles, it doesn’t matter because the leads are so adept.

Rachel McAdams is strong and forceful as Lisa. One of the best things about Craven’s films is his consistently powerful female protagonists, and Lisa is no different. She’s a take-charge, competent, and successful individual, whose only flaw seems to be that she’s a bit too focused on her career. Despite the different ways that any one of us might react to her situation, it’s still easy to root for her and appreciate her different attempts to get out of Murphy’s trap.

Red Eye is full of clever instances, from truly hilarious comments made by background extras to the best damn way to hide a giant missile launcher on a yacht I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, its tense and witty beginning transitions into an uncharacteristically dull third act.

It’s when the characters leave the plane that the movie begins to deteriorate. The plane setting is replaced by Lisa’s house, bringing the story into the real world and shedding light on its unlikelihoods. Worse yet, Lisa’s intelligence and competence is usurped by standard horror victim tendencies – she very frustratingly doesn’t assault Murphy when he’s unarmed, for no reason other than to draw out the movie’s thin premise.

Red Eye is a sometimes witty thriller that enjoys a terse first hour. The last act is disappointingly subpar, losing its self awareness and becoming the very generic movie that it seemed like it would rise above. Still, strong performances by two attractive leads makes Red Eye worth checking out.

Final rating: 6.5/10

–James A. Janisse

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