Director : s Wes Craven
Screenplay : Carl Ellsworth (story by Carl Ellsworth and Dan Foos)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Rachel McAdams (Lisa Reisert), Cillian Murphy (Jackson Rippner), Brian Cox (Dad), Laura Johnson (Blonde Woman), Max Kasch (Headphone Kid), Jayma Mays (Cynthia), Angela Paton (Nice Lady), Suzie Plakson (Senior Flight Attendant), Jack Scalia (Charles Keefe)
Red Eye is a B-movie extraordinaire, a taut exercise in jangly thrills that is exactly as long as it should be and punches all the right buttons. In a sleek 80 minutes, it manages to combine elements of a political thriller, a slasher movie, and a deferred rape-revenge fantasy into a claustrophobic cat-and-mouse scenario, the majority of which takes place in the rigidly confined space of an airplane.
I don't want to give away too much of the plot because part of the movie's pleasure is the way it slowly unfolds its secrets, so suffice it say that Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) plays Lisa Reisert, a workaholic, on-the-go hotel manager who is trying to return to Miami from Dallas after attending the funeral of her grandmother. She troubleshoots problems on her cell phone, displaying a well-heeled knack for appeasing people. She is also under the constant watch of her recently divorced dad (Brian Cox), who has the tendency to ask if she's "really" alright after she replies that she is.
Lisa has a meet-cute in the airport with a man named Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), and despite his scary-sounding name, he seems to be a fundamentally decent, well-groomed guy. They share nachos and a couple of drinks while waiting for their delayed plane, and you get the sense that a connection is being made, one that seems destined to strengthen when they wind up sitting next to each other on the plane. But then, in a brilliantly written bit of dialogue that drops hints of terror to come in tantalizingly bitter drops, Jackson reveals who he really is and, more importantly, what he wants from Lisa. Before Lisa knows it, she is essentially a prisoner on the airplane, with her father's life and, as it turns out, many others', hanging in the balance.
Red Eye is easily genre auteur Wes Craven's best film in years, probably since the original Scream (1996), and a fine recovery from last year's long-delayed and absolutely awful werewolf howler Cursed. Craven displays a Hitchockian flair for white-knuckle tension, playing on both modern anxieties about airline terrorism in the age of Homeland Security and ancient fears about the nightmare of having no control. The screenplay by Carl Ellsworth (a TV veteran of Xena and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) seems tailor-made to Craven's talents, particularly his knack for developing well-rounded human characters in standard genre fare.
Rachel McAdams, who has become a full-fledged star before our eyes over the past two years, ably conveys Lisa's fluctuating emotional state, as she goes from in-control, to flirty, to terror-stricken, to angrily resourceful. As the villain, Cillian Murphy plays with many of the same dynamics he used as the Scarecrow in Batman Begins. Murphy has a smooth, almost feminine face that has the unique ability to morph from completely harmless to downright demonic with the slightest flick of his eye. He is less interesting the further the film goes and the more overt his villainy becomes, but he is creepily effective in the early scenes when he slips from gentle soul to agent of terror with a few well-placed sentences.
As a surface thriller, Red Eye is an effective piece of work, an entertaining clockwork mechanism that keeps winding tighter and tighter. Yet, it is most interesting in the way it plays with cinematic gender dynamics. In terms of the slasher genre, Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) featured the most resourceful of all Final Girls, who didn't just fight back against the villain when her back was against the wall, but rather planned and executed an elaborate series of traps. Given the tight time frame, Lisa doesn't have that luxury, but once the action moves off the plane and into her father's house, it affords her familiar terrain that she can and does use to her advantage.
Lisa has a wound in her past that's literally embodied as a scar on her chest, one that is crucial to explaining why she won't go down easily and is just as crucial to elevating her above the standard woman-in-peril. Red Eye burns hotter than it should because its fuel is laced with a hardy dose of female empowerment that is so tightly interwoven with the general thrill mechanism that it shoots directly into your subconscious. Jackson's eventual punishment is just as much for his casual misogyny as for his murderous politics. In fact, the very moment that Lisa lashes out with full-tilt violence is cannily predicated on her refusing to re-experience a past incident of male violence. Her taking control of the situation is played as a direct response to Jackson's sexist assumption that the best she can do is comfort herself with the idea that she never had control. Red Eye's most cathartic rush is watching her rip it back and run with it.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2005 DreamWorks Pictures