It’s hard to find a director with as much impact on the horror genre as Wes Craven. From Freddie Krueger to Ghostface, Craven’s horror imagery is nothing short of iconic. But when you’ve got a 30+ year resume starting with “The Last House on the Left” and running through the in-production “Scream 4,” it’s easy for something to slip through the cracks – especially when its subject matter is neither sensational nor supernatural. That’s exactly what happened with 2005’s “Red Eye,” but don’t be fooled – this movie shows Craven is every bit a master of suspense as he is horror.
Rachel Adams plays workaholic hotel manager Lisa Reisert, returning home aboard a late flight. At the airport, she chats up Cillian Murphy’s Jackson Rippner (how that name doesn’t set off red flags going through security, I don’t know), who coincidentally sits next to her on the plane. But there are no coincidences in suspense flicks, and Lisa and Jackson’s chance encounter isn’t so lucky – as Jackson reveals he is a hitman targeting a tough-talking senator staying at Lisa’s hotel. He needs Lisa’s access to carry out the hit, and if she doesn’t comply, his associate will murder her father (Brian Cox) waiting at home. Invariably, what’s supposed to be the safest place in the sky becomes a prison for Lisa, as Jackson intercepts and curtails her every attempt to warn fellow passengers. Vulnerable and isolated, Lisa must make a decision as time and options run out.
The movie works because Craven and company zero in on McAdam’s Lisa – her life, her past, her family. Nothing else matters. The creative decision to forsake the incredible for the intimate leads to a degree of involvement in Lisa’s plight further enhanced by the film’s subtle but surefire pacing. The film also captures each rhythm of Lisa’s movement – from the routine to the nerve-racking. McAdams does an excellent job reflecting Lisa’s emotions while believably building up her strengths. Cillian Murphy is as creepy as you would expect from the future Scarecrow, but he backs up the creepiness with a mixture of brutality and calculation which make it little wonder he tried out for the role of Batman first. Veteran actor Brian Cox is effective as Lisa’s tough-yet-imperiled father, and sharp-eyed “Glee” fans will note Jayma Mays playing a familiar role as Lisa’s quirky co-worker.
Simply put, “Red Eye” is Wes Craven at his best working with less. The film might seem simple and straight-forward, but it’s got the legs of a jackrabbit breaking out of its cage and into a doghouse. If you’re ready for a sleepless night, you can buy “Red Eye” for $5.97 shipped at Wal-Mart.