With Red Eye (2005), horror pop-meister Wes Craven proves to be a good hand at crafting a simple, straightforward, surprisingly effective thriller with a minimum of gimmickry.
Rachel McAdams is Lisa Reisert, the smart, strong-willed hotel manager on her way to her grandmother’s funeral. Cillian Murphy is the freelance terrorist who extorts her into placing a high ranking government official (Brian Cox) in the path of an assassination plot. The battle of wits and wiles all plays out while he holds her virtual prisoner on a plane ride.
Both actors were up and coming actors when they were cast in the lead. McAdams had made Mean Girls and The Notebook and plays on her all-American pluck as the professional who applies her business acumen to her new situation. Murphy, fresh from 28 Days Later, is the almost too-perfectly named Jackson Rippner, whose intense blue eyes make him both seductive and savage.
It never quite reaches a fever pitch of mortal peril or terror, but neither does it fall into the trap of the aren’t-I-clever brand of plot twists and remains refreshingly free of sadism, outrageous car chases, absurdly superhuman feats and skin-of-the-teeth escapes. Everything they do is not only plausible but logical, a credit to screenwriter Carl Ellsworth.
Craven paces it well and plays it out in an unsettling atmosphere of quiet, and somehow manages to treat both the characters and the audience with simple respect. That’s no small thing for an American thriller.
Jayma Mays costars as Lisa’s distracted trainee.