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Red Eye

If hell really is indeed other people, then the hospitality industry is where hardened sinners go to serve their time.
Go ask Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), manager of a swanky hotel in Miami in Wes Craven’s new thriller Red Eye, if Existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre was right to call his famous play No Exit. Trapped in an airplane next to a hired killer asking too many questions and supplying too many troubling answers, poor Lisa has only her skill with negotiating with jerks to help her survive.
Craven’s newest film takes place in a fast, self-help, self-serve world. Lisa has learned how to smooth over the edges, giving guests exactly what they believe they deserve without compromising the hotel’s reputation or security. Her only meaningful relationship is to her recently divorced father, and she’s mastered the revolving-door realities of the hotel business where everyone must be made to feel special while sleeping in beds rented by the night.
Lisa is stuck at an airport while flying back from her grandmother’s funeral when she meets Jackson (Cillian Murphy) at a layover. This chance encounter has serious sexual undertones, but Lisa sidesteps them with practiced ease. She seems distant and reserved even when Jackson turns up his creepy charm in a bar, though she eventually warms up to him when the pair are unexpectedly seated next to one another on the plane.
Their intimacy, however, is a sham, less the flirtations of strangers passing in a train that the sadistic game a predator plays with its prey. Locked in the belly of the beast next to a man who becomes more fiendish every minute, Lisa somehow emerges from her isolation just in time to discover how much her connections mean to her.
Red Eye is a great graphic description of the rabble, and Craven makes excellent use of space to define relationships. In the cavernous Twilight Zone of an airport at 2am human beings become lumps in the dark, sleeping next to one another yet avoiding all contact with one another. In the plane, where contact is forced, Lisa and Jackson are the opposite of lovers: People engaged in undoing one another at every opportunity.
The film is best when it’s operating in the friction zone, when we don’t fully understand Jackson’s interest in Lisa. Having set up a world where connections are fleeting and difficult, there is something oddly satisfying in Jackson’s cat-and-mouse game of seduction. It is natural to wonder about a quarter of the way into the film, when Jackson has carefully explained the film’s plot to Lisa, how Red Eye can sustain suspense? How can Craven keep us at the edge of our seats after he’s given away all his secrets?
He can’t.
Something goes out of the film after Jackson steps out of the closet and exposes himself to us. The movie becomes slack and rote rather than taunt and well paced. The film dies in the endless chase scenes that follow, the inevitable stabbing involving a pen, the cartoon-like use of violence, and Craven is all too happy to reverse suspense in the final moments of Red Eye, leaving us rolling our eyes rather than gasping for air.
No one expects Craven to be Alfred Hitchcock, but there is something disturbing about the nose dive he makes in Red Eye. In his Scream franchise he poked fun of the horror genre and gave his audience the benefit of the doubt. In Red Eye he seems to be happy to tread on familiar ground while serving up a mismatch of leftovers that have seen better days. There’s something pathetic in his effort since it betrays what he thinks we want: Gore, blood, explosions and predictable happy endings.
In the end Red Eye is thoroughly competent without being completely satisfying.

 

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