Craven Still Has Vision Intact
When the name of director Wes Craven is uttered, two milestones in horror films come to mind: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996). Craven cut his teeth on such creepfests as Last House on the Left (1972), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) to name a few. He knows how to scare audiences with stories that typically center around strong female characters fighting creepy villains. Red Eye, while not a horror film, stays faithful to Craven themes and is easily his best movie in nine years.
Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), a hotel executive who is good under pressure, is traveling home from her grandmother’s funeral. She’s about to embark on the last flight to Miami, when she meets a smooth stranger (Cillian Murphy) who strikes up a conversation with her. As “coincidence” would have it, they end up sitting next to each other on the plane. Lisa soon discovers her newfound friend is no friend at all, as he unfolds a sinister plan in which she is involuntarily involved. Where will she find help at 30,000 feet?
Red Eye is a straight up genre piece, and for it to work you need a great villain and a heroine to root for. In her first starring role, McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook) makes Lisa a determined woman that we care about. Her emotional and physical performance is the center of the film and she delivers. Cillian Murphy (who has the most intense blue eyes since Meg Foster) nails the creep vibe, which he has already displayed in this year’s Batman Begins. Rounding out the effective cast is Bryan Cox as McAdams’ father, and Jayma Mays as a ditsy redhead who provides the film’s comic relief.
I also appreciated the taut, efficient script by Carl Ellsworth. This is an 85 minute movie, which leaves little room to mess around. There is a nice setup with lots of realistic interaction by the leads, and when the plot shifts into gear, things stay believable (rare for this type of film), well paced, and exciting. There were several moments when I was thinking “If I was in this situation, I’d do this right now!”--and it happened on screen! In so many films of this type the characters act stupidly and the villain is omniscient. Not this time. Thank you Carl Ellsworth!
There are a few nitpicks I could throw out there. The fact the lavatory on the plane is freaking enormous, or the chuckle-inducing shot of McAdams’ stunt double that looks nothing like her (watch where she stumbles running through the airport), or the “killer in the house” conclusion that feels recycled. These are small complaints in an otherwise strong effort by all.
Then there’s Craven. With years of directing horror films, he is a natural choice for this Hitchcockian material. His camera is always interesting without being distracting, and he knows how to get good performances out of his actors. This could be the film that breaks him out of the horror genre forever (which he tried once before with Music of the Heart (1999)).
If you can’t tell by now, I really liked Red Eye. It doesn’t break any new ground, but the ground it’s on is solid.