High Drama in the Skies in Wes Craven’s Entertaining Thriller

Wes Craven slowed his roll somewhat in the later years of his directing career, periodically returning to the Scream series and dabbling in other genre fare now and again. In 2005 he helmed two movies. One was the aptly named Cursed, which for various reasons, stunk out the place. The other was a taut thriller that leaned heavy on the Hitchcock and made superb use of its two leads in their cat-and-mouse game.

Red Eye was released on this day in 2005 and would be Wes Craven’s third from last feature. It stars Rachel McAdams as Lisa Reisert, a woman with a fear of flying who just so happens to have to go on a red-eye flight to her job in Miami at a luxury resort. But turbulence and inappropriate showings of Final Destination are the least of Lisa’s problems as she meets a charismatic man aboard the flight named Jackson Rippner (played by Oppenheimer star Cillian Murphy).

What starts as a meet-cute takes a sinister turn as Rippner is working for some shady folks with Lisa’s father in the sights of an assassin. If she does not help Rippner get a Homeland Security official killed at a certain place in the resort where she works, then her father will be killed.

A Nightmare by Air

Credit: Dreamworks

What follows is an intense and often overblown suspense thriller that mixes the gleeful malevolence of Craven’s horror hits with the escalation of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers such as The Man Who Knew Too Much and North By Northwest.

Nowhere is that stronger than it is in the performance of Murphy, who chews up the in-flight magazines, rickety trays, and various other paraphernalia about the cabin as a smooth yet deadly middleman. He’s long been able to flip between charming and menacing, and this is an entertainingly over-the-top example. It’s no surprise to learn Murphy flew to have lunch with Craven two days before his wedding in order to beg for the role.

That’s not to discount McAdams, who really commits to the increasing absurdity and melodrama in an all-action display of wits and ingenuity. Between them, the pair put the suspense into suspension of disbelief. The role initially had been meant for a more established actor, with Nicole Kidman, Lisa Kudrow, and Cate Blanchett among those considered for Lisa. McAdams shows exactly why she had quickly become one of Hollywood’s biggest up-and-coming names after eye-catching turns in Mean Girls and The Notebook.

Wes Craven would follow with the underwhelming My Soul to Take before unofficially bowing out as a director with 2011’s Scream 4. Sadly, Craven would pass away four years later, leaving an important legacy in the history of horror.