“Red Eye” is the Unlikely Wes Craven Thriller We Never Saw Coming

Years ago, during my younger, edgier phase, I talked endlessly about the late Wes Craven saying he was precariously near John Carpenter territory as far as Hollywood wash-ups go.  Amazingly, through some miracle and/or a pact with evil, Wes Craven somehow not only made a great movie again, but he jumped genres from horror to thriller.

Horror’s loss is the thriller’s gain!  Actually, after Scream 3 and 4, maybe it really wasn’t horror’s loss after all.

Personally, I was elated.  I’m always happy to see someone you count as down and out suddenly pop up again stronger and, growing up and watching movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street, the first Scream, and The Serpent and the Rainbow it was like watching an old friend suddenly jump up out of bed after a long coma…. only now he’s a little confused and can’t remember where his house is.

I was proud of him for taking a chance and doing something that no one expected him to do.  The fact that it was such a successful thrill ride is only more of a reason to jump for joy over Wes Craven’s Red Eye.

This tense and intelligent thriller stars Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy.  Adams is the manager of a posh Miami hotel flying back home following her grandmother’s funeral.  It’s on this flight back that she meets Murphy who plays a charming stranger and, who she later learns, has some sinister motives that she is the key to.  Unless she does exactly what he wants her to do, her father will be killed.

Mind you, a lot of this movie happens mid-flight and, if you thought that flying was claustrophobic enough then you haven’t seen anything yet as the pair deliver a couple of tight performances in a cat and mouse game at 35,000 feet.

The thing I liked most about this movie is that there is a lot of truism about it.  Murphy doesn’t look like a bastion of all that is evil and he really isn’t portrayed that was either.  Rather, despite being clever and seemingly one step ahead of his prey, at his heart he’s a rat and a coward and that is precisely how he acts in the air and on the ground.  Like he says many times, he’s a man willing to get the job done and if that means stabbing a young woman and an old man to do it then so be it.  If you put this guy up against Chuck Norris, he’d probably crap his pants and run away but when faced with someone he considers a weaker opponent, suddenly he’s smarmy and overconfident. 

The same concept applies to McAdams.  She’s not Ripley or Sarah Conner, but she is bright and does a lot of things to try and get help.  In the end, the final confrontation is well plotted and makes complete sense when you learn of her motivations.

Forget the blood and gore you might expect from a Wes Craven movie, Red Eye is a witty psychological thriller that seems to be above the splatter of horror movies.  Rightly so.  It’s intelligent and tense and plays on everything from claustrophobia to helplessness to even terrorism and 9/11 fears.

Looking back, I wish that Wes Craven crossed genres more often. Who knows what he might have had lurking in that demented imagination of his.

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