Wes Craven’s Red Eye, a pseudo-political crime story primarily set aboard a Miami-bound airplane, works extremely well as a fast-paced adrenaline rush, but not so well as an allegory on today’s government and security issues. Luckily, Craven’s a horror director first and foremost, and mostly stores the subtext in the supporting role where it belongs: Red Eye is an exciting movie, one that isn’t revolutionary but is a worthwhile viewing…which, given the miserable status of horror movies nowadays, is almost worthy of revolutionary status. Whereas most horror pictures tend to rely on cliché after tired cliché, Red Eye cleverly gives a cliché-esque buildup to multiple scenarios—the old bedroom of an only daughter remaining intact for her to spend ‘one more night’ in, etc, etc—but doesn’t wrap them up in a neat little package, instead using them for slightly unexpected purposes (perfect knowledge of the house’s layout, for instance). While none of these moments are revolutionary in and of themselves, they’re a welcome relief from the nonsense that usually pervades a tired genre.
Spearheaded by a pointed script stacked with short, concise dialogue, Red Eye is taut and energetic. It jumps into a relatively simple storyline, and never slows up: aided by Craven’s excellent use of space—he employs predominantly tight framing and close-ups, which smoothly meshes with the claustrophobic feeling of the jet—Red Eye is a great ride from start to finish. At 85 minutes, it’s properly paced, allowing the audience to appropriately sympathize with stunned hotel manager Lisa (Rachel McAdams), as she’s held captive high above ground by an at-first-gentlemanly Jack (an extremely creepy and effective Cillian Murphy, in many ways reprising his role as The Scarecrow in Batman Begins), who turns out to be hijacking her for her connections to the affluent executive Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia), the target of Jack’s organization’s murder plot. The zoomed-in camera frequently isolates Murphy’s sinister, cold face under the seat light—the lone light amidst an ocean of dark seats—and keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.
The best analogy to Red Eye in recent years is Joel Scumacher’s Phone Booth (2002), which has the same sharp pacing and strong lead performances. Like Phone Booth, Red Eye bites off more than it can chew when it comes to political undertones (Keefe’s motives and place in the hierarchy aren’t really explained, and neither are the motives of Jack’s people; we know little more than what Jack silkily-but-menacingly communicates to Lisa) but understands that its primary goal is to entertain, and the directors avoid concocting screenplays that emit pretentious vibes. Red Eye’s outcome is never really in doubt (nor the identities of those who succeed and / or fail), which keeps it from being a really memorable film: that said, it’s an exhilarating thriller, well worth a watch…and in the era of XXX, Paparazzi, and loads of other lame filmic attempts to entertain, that’s worth more than classic film connoisseurs might realize.