Wes Craven’s Red Eye is an engaging, propulsive, and slightly tongue-in-cheek thriller. It’s having a good time, and it wants you to have one too.
“Hitchcockian premise with splashier and pulpier execution” is almost its own genre at this point, and one I happen to like quite a bit. If a filmmaker doesn’t have a talent for graceful, precision-crafted suspense, it’s far better if they know it and can substitute in something they are good at, and Craven, though incredibly uneven, is great at intensity, infusions of humor, and the clever use of space. Red Eye uses all those gifts to great effect, harnessing them in the service of an inherently hooky plot. Truly, if you can not only forgive but embrace the fact that Cillian Murphy plays a character named Jackson Rippner, you’re going to have fun.
Rachel McAdams excels at characters who are highly professionally competent, so she’s a perfect casting choice for harried hotel manager Lisa, who is excellent at juggling the numerous and often unreasonable demands guests are prone to bombarding her with. She’s on her way back to the job after a funeral, taking the red-eye home, and of course she’s still fielding work calls and dispensing advice. Everyone knows Lisa, and everyone trusts her.
When she grabs a much-needed drink at the airport bar before her flight, she meets the charming, chilly-eyed Jackson Rippner. As it turns out, they’re on the same flight. In fact, he’ll be her seatmate. He also has a simple request–and the leverage to ensure that she complies with it.
Red Eye is at its best when Lisa and Jackson are both on the plane, with Lisa exercising all her ingenuity to try to outwit him and possibly signal for help, but Craven does an admirable job keeping the tension going even once the pressure-cooker atmosphere dissipates. The movie’s big-picture stakes, involving an assassination attempt, are technically believable but emotionally ludicrous, and it’s hard to care about them, but we do care about whether or not Lisa will be able to find a way out of this situation without betraying responsibilities and trusts that clearly matter to her. That makes for a tense cat-and-mouse game that Craven handles with the right degree of playfulness.
Red Eye is streaming on HBO.