Red Eye: Wes Craven’s First-Class Psychological Thriller

Following the success of his Scream franchise, Wes Craven took a few years off before getting behind the camera again. Horror fans waited five years for Craven’s next movie. In 2005, Craven released not one, but two, movies. One of those movies was a success; the other was not. Despite a great cast and classic premise, werewolf flick Cursed bombed after a myriad of production problems. Fortunately, Craven’s second 2005 release, Red Eye, was a surprise success. Representing a bit of a change for the director, Red Eye was a taut, psychological thriller reminiscent of vintage Alfred Hitchcock.

Synopsis

Hotel manager Lisa Reisert catches a red eye flight to visit her divorced dad in Miami. After a chance encounter with a handsome stranger in the terminal, Lisa is initially delighted when she finds herself seated next to him on the flight. But once the plane is in the air, Lisa’s trip turns into a nightmare. Her ‘handsome stranger’ is a terrorist who needs her help to set an assassination plot in motion. With her father’s life on the line, Lisa faces an impossible choice with nowhere to run.

Red Eye Delivers Edge-Of-Your-Seat Suspense at High Altitude

Though it’s not Craven’s best work, and it’s certainly his most mainstream, Red Eye is something of a remarkable late-career curveball. That is, Craven substitutes graphic scares for what’s a good, old-fashioned psychological thriller. With a premise that could have come from Hitchcock himself, Red Eye is a brilliantly paced thriller for most of its runtime. In spite of the confined setting, Craven manages to ratchet up the tension with tight timing and slights of hand. With nowhere to go, Red Eye finds clever ways to twist and create tense white-knuckle moments. And at under 90 minutes, the movie clips along rapidly, never overstaying its welcome.

Craven Almost Lets His Final Act Go Off the Rails

After a tight, compact hour or so, Craven nearly lets Red Eye go off the rails in his climax. Once Lisa gets off the plane, Craven shifts gears from Hitchcock-styled thriller to frenzied, over-the-top action. There’s rocket launchers, so-so CGI, vehicular homicide, and a final ‘cat-and-mouse’ chase. Things veer close to tired thriller clichés as cellphones die and previously-believed dead characters return at just the right moment. Though Red Eye goes off course, Craven clearly mastered nail-biting suspense with his Scream movies. And it shows here.

…Craven shifts gears from Hitchcock-styled thriller to frenzied, over-the-top action.

If the movie’s first half is the roller-coaster mounting they peak, the climax is the rapid twists and turns that follows. At this point in his film-making career, Craven executes his ‘cat-and-mouse’ game with a master’s precision. Arguably, Red Eye’s ending is Craven’s most conventional work, but it’s also damn good.

Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy Bring Tension to Tight Spaces

For Red Eye’s premise to work, Craven needed convincing performances to pull off his tight-quarters suspense. Both Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy have amassed impressive credentials over their respective careers. As Lisa, McAdams makes you feel her fear and desperation. Even if Red Eye becomes increasingly far-fetched, McAdams grounds the movie with her performance.

…Murphy’s sudden turn from kindly stranger to menacing villain gives Red Eye exactly the level of tension it needs.

And while Murphy lacks an imposing frame, he more than makes up for it with his icy demeanour and intense stare. Like McAdams performance, Murphy’s sudden turn from kindly stranger to menacing villain gives Red Eye exactly the level of tension it needs. Too bad Craven wastes the fantastic Brian Cox (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) in what amounts to a glorified cameo.

Red Eye Soars Off The Runway

Maybe it’s a little silly beneath the surface. And you could point out that the ending’s a little too tidy. But Red Eye is a master-class in suspense for the majority of its runtime. With stellar performances from McAdams and Murphy, Marco Beltrami’s gripping score, and Craven’s skilled execution, Red Eye may be the horror filmmaker’s most under-appreciated movies.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B+

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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