Wes Craven’s RED EYE is only an hour and fifteen minutes long. I mention that up front as a big justification for my having watched it. Also, Fiona brought it home from the shop she works in and demanded to see it. So I was just being sociable. She takes the view that Wes is due a return to form, while I take the view that he never had that much form to begin with.
That’s not quite fair, though. He’s an adept manipulator of the audience as far as shocks and suspense are concerned. Give him a scene of violent conflict and tension and he can be relied on to make a good, effective job of it. I never find anything very imaginative in his filmmaking, which always follows the fashion, with a little visual taste and conservatism to stop him going all Michael Bay on us.
If Craven has a particular, giant, glaring flaw, it’s probably in his casting. Rachel McAdams in RED EYE gives a “decent” performance, but she’s just not interesting. Probably she’ll get more interesting and authoritative with experience, if she can get the parts, but she just doesn’t have the fascinating essence, the life experience, or the skill to really hold a film together. She’s in a direct line of descent from Heather Langenkamp and Neve Campbell, and all these actresses played characters with traumatic backstories, but were completely unable to suggest any kind of tortured inner life going on behind their eerily smooth surfaces. It seems that all Craven requires of a starlet is a perfect complexion. (His interest in the skilled and magnetic Emily Mortimer, whom he cast in SCREAM III and his episode of PARIS JE T’AIME, is a saving grace.)
It’s a double shame, this casting of pert vacuums, since Craven has an ace up his sleeve with Cillian Murphy as his villain. Murphy has a handsomely sculpted potato for a face, and piercing blue special-effect eyes — he could join the Fremen in DUNE without touching a grain of spice. I want to say he’s intense enough for two, but nobody is, given the collaborative nature of performance — nobody can strike sparks off a damp tea-towel.
The writing is fair-to-middling, with a constant supply of suspenseful situations, as Murphy blackmails hotel manager McAdams during a flight to Miami, so she will make a phone call and move a bullish Homeland Security politician into a different hotel room where he can be picked off by assassins. I was kind of uncomfortable with the idea that we should be rooting for a Republican reptile to survive the movie. But it was interesting to see that Craven was quite willing to buy into that and make a basically right-wing film, I was slightly surprised at him. The terrorists have no specific agenda or cause, like those in Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE, but this struck me as more sinister in Craven’s case. It suits us in the West to imagine that our enemies have no point of view, are just guys in black hats. You can’t negotiate with them — or you might find out that they have their reasons. (I don’t say good reasons…)