Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy
Watch Red Eye online in the UK: iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
“You might want to buckle up.” That’s Jackson (Cillian Murphy) to Lisa (Rachel McAdams), as they settle down to take the titular overnight flight to Miami. She’s a young, good-looking hotel manager. He’s a young, good-looking man. They’ve already bumped into each in the airport, before ending up sat next to each other. It’s pretty clear that this can’t just be coincidence. Not when sparks are flying between them…
One look at the name “Wes Craven” in the credits, though, makes it clear that this isn’t coincidence: it’s actually all a ploy by Jackson to blackmail Lisa into helping him kill someone. Arranging to sit next to someone on a commercial flight just so you can force them to make life-and-death phone calls from their seat 30,000 feet in the air? It sounds ridiculous the moment you stop to think about – by the time the words “assassination” and “rocket launcher” have come into play, any sense of plausibility has jumped out of the plane without a parachute. But that’s the brilliance of Red Eye: it never once gives you a chance to stop and think.
This is far from the best work by the late Wes Craven, but the horror master is on terrifyingly efficient form here, crafting an on-rails nail-biter that doesn’t let up. He and screenwriter Carl Ellsworth are evidently having lots of fun during the opening act, as they cue up every airport romance cliche you can think of, from the meet-cute in the queue for sorting out their delayed departure to their drink shortly after, not to mention the young girl in the background who’s about to make her first flight without her parents. All of those beats are so perfectly weighted that when the rhythm changes to a psychological thriller, you really are taken off guard.
So much of that is also down to the performers. Almost acting out a two-hander, Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy are on superb form. McAdams, paving the way for her move from Mean Girls and The Notebook to True Detective and Spotlight, is an instantly winning presence, turning her Final Girl-esque survivor into a rounded human with a convincing father-daughter bond (Brian Cox phones it in literally, in the best way possible). Murphy, meanwhile, is marvellous. Only a few years after 28 Days Later… shot him to stardom, he enjoys the opportunity (as he did in Batman Begins – both released in 2005) to play the villain, his piercing blue eyes moving from charming and suave to chilling and threatening at a moment’s notice. He smiles, woos, intimidates and attacks often without saying a word – his thin-lipped smile is all you need to know he’s a bad piece of work.
The film spends most of its impressively brief 80-minute runtime focused solely on them, using the inherently unnerving setting of an airplane to ramp up the claustrophobic tension. It’s nicely punctuated by comic phone calls to Cynthia (Jayma Mays, aka. Emma from Glee), Lisa’s colleague who is trying to sort out hotel arrangements for a high security guest. The result is as much as exercise in suspense as it is a collision of two characters – it says a lot that the token supporting cast have names such as “Nice Lady” and “Irate Passenger” – but the suspense is so simple and well-crafted that it doesn’t matter. Even when Craven slips into familiar territory for his climactic showdown, the air is so thick with tension that touching down on the ground can’t dispel it. All you can do is buckle up and enjoy watching a filmmaker flying at the top of his game.