Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This Is Your Captive Speaking

Year: 2005
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox
Run Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Again, let’s revel in our newfound post-Halloween freedom by continuing our post-mortem exploration of he late, great horror maven Wes Craven. As I set out to watch my way through the portions of his filmography that I hadn’t seen or reviewed before, I realized that most of the ones I missed, I’d missed for good reason. Part of why I admire Craven is the fact that he pushes himself to new horizons, even if he is trapped into the horror genre thanks to Hollywood’s compulsive pigeonholing. That experimentation resulted in some gems and some duds, but I always say you’re not growing as an artist if you don’t produce a few clunkers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I particularly want to be exposed to the clunkers, however philosophically stimulating they may be. But even if I’d already cleared the shelf of out-and-out classics before Craven’s passing, he still left some nuggets of inimitable genre filmmaking behind to refresh the intrepid completist. One such nugget is Red Eye, a star-studded thriller from 2005 and his last feature film of the 2000’s, to be followed by just two final efforts in 2010 and 2011: Scream 4 (a shallow but underrated franchise film) and My Soul to Take (uh… I’ll get back to you on that one).

I try to focus on the positive things in life.

Lisa Reiser (Rachel McAdams) is the manager of a prominent Florida hotel. When a high-ranking government official comes to stay with his family, she rushes from her hometown (where she was attending a funeral) on a late night flight so she can properly accommodate him and his security contingent. Unfortunately her plane is delayed and that duty falls to her anxious coworker Cynthia (Jayma Mays, who is the adorable love child of a puppy and a field of daisies). Lisa meets follow passenger Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), who strikes up a hesitant flirtation.

She quickly learns that y0ou should never trust anyone with the cheekbones of a cadaver, because when the plane takes off, Jack reveals his true intentions. He tells Lisa that, if she doesn’t pulls strings and get the politician to transfer to a specifically targeted room, his agent will murder her father (Brian Cox, the original Hannibal Lecter from Manhunter, who loads around even more than the cellbound cannibal). Thus begins an epic cat and mouse game played on the smallest of scales –a  cramped airplane cabin.

Murder threats are still preferable to screaming babies though, to be honest.

If Music of the Heart hadn’t bowed its way into theaters in 1999, I’d say Red Eye was the most atypical Craven flick yet. A thriller without a whiff of the supernatural (or Craven’s dietary staple of dream sequences) and largely free from gonzo gore, it might still technically be a genre flick, but it’s about as similar to The Hills Have Eyes as Lady and the Tramp. As we’ve learned, Craven would have given his left foot to do another movie that wasn’t horror, and he knew this was one of the last life preservers floating toward non-genre shores. With that in mind, he really put his all into creating the best thriller procedural he could, and it shows.

Without a Craven-penned script, his personality is a little less evident in the film itself, but Red Eye is nothing less than a perfectly functional nail-biting thriller. It’s a well-oiled B-movie machine, performing its job to a T and bleaching every last shred of color from your knuckles in the process. From its unassuming opening credits to its bloody finale, all Red Eye wants to do is get in, jangle some nerves, then jet the hell outta there, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

But there is something wrong with people who don’t think twice when a Cillian Murphy character comes on to them.

Red Eye is all about setups and payoffs, with nearly every element in the first act coming into play by the closing credits. This Rube Goldbergian plotting keeps the audience engaged, constantly guessing the next way Rachel Madams will attempt to MacGyver her way out of the situation. It’s clever, satisfying, and frequently intense.

These are perhaps two of the most accomplished actors Craven has ever been afforded the chance to work with (well, them and Meryl. And Johnny Depp’s midriff), and he takes full advantage of their range, maintaining a seething emotional undercurrent beneath the crackerjack thrills. The characters might not be totally three-dimensional, but at the very least they’re two-and-a-half-dimensional, and they sell every twist and turn, even in the strangely distended final twenty minutes. 

The film’s pace never flags, even during the Birds-esque opening sequence that reties to trick you into thinking you’re watching a romantic comedy, or perhaps The Notebook Part 2: We Couldn’t Get Ryan Gosling, and though it’s hardly Oscar-worthy cinema, that is an unequivocally good thing. Red Eye is a taut, tense, no fuss no muss thriller. It’s so efficient, it could have a slot on the infomercial channel. If you want a simple, rip-roaring good time with a sprinkle of heart and a dash of political drama, look no further. Just make sure you buckle your seatbelt before you take off.

TL;DR: Red Eye is a taut, streamlined, nail biting thriller.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 905


  1. I have very vague memories of seeing this a decade ago, possibly drunk, but I really need a refresher. It's been in my Netflix queue for a while. Rest assured, it's getting moved up.

    1. DO IT! I recommend this film to any Wes Craven virgins who aren't super into horror. It's a ton of fun, and one of his most underappreciated films.

    2. Hey, hey. I've seen Nightmare and 3/4 of the Screams.