It’s always refreshing when a director can break out of their milieu and deliver something different. Wes Craven has carved his name into the horror genre with films like Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, yet he occasionally surprises us with movies like Music of the Heart. Red Eye is one such pleasant surprise. Set predominantly on a plane, Craven delivers an uncomfortable, claustrophobic character driven film, but in the homestretch reminds us that deep down inside, a guy with a big knife is why we watch a Wes Craven film.
The plot revolves around, Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), the manager of a prestigious hotel and her ability to move guests around as she pleases. She demonstrates her total control over the hotel early on when she dictates precise instructions over her cell phone to her front desk clerk to accommodate some angry regulars. It just so happens that the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia), and his family will be spending the night at Lisa’s hotel. As it is with all people in important positions, someone wants Keefe dead, but an integral part to killing Keefe is that he stays in a particular room. Here’s where Lisa comes in: only she can move Keefe to the proper room without drawing suspicion. The bad guys hire Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) to coerce Lisa into making that room change before Keefe arrives at the hotel by holding her father (Brian Cox) as ransom in what is conceivably the least airtight assassination attempt ever devised.
Murphy marvelously plays his role as Jackson, who is an expert in controlling variables. He is icily exact when it comes to manipulating Lisa, approaching her as a prospective love interest, but ultimately revealing himself as a professional killer. This dramatic transformation in such a short amount of time will frighten by itself.
Rachel McAdams is very natural in the role of Lisa, expressing a wide range of emotions effortlessly. Her totally-in-control facade gives way to defeat as Jackson thwarts her plans each time. In the end, Lisa gains true control and self-confidence to stand up against Jackson without simply becoming a testosterone filled stand-in for a male hero.
The film has a wonderful nuance about it that is sure to remind of films from the 40’s or 50’s, when even one-line characters made you feel like you knew them. It works quite well here as you get a feeling for the other passengers and what their individual motivations are; not unlike being on a short flight.
As stated earlier, the film devolves into a cat and mouse slasher sequence that is used to good effect and sure to please Wes Craven fans. Still, one can’t help but feel that the movie morphs into something else once it leaves the plane. Written by Carl Ellsworth, Red Eye is an enjoyable, tight little film that will make you grateful for the screaming babies or garrulous people who sometimes sit next to you on flights. They may kill you, but not intentionally.