Lisa (Rachel McAdams) is a young hotel manager who had been attending the funeral of her maternal grandmother in Dallas. She's very busy, and in the taxi to the airport one of her staff, Cynthia (Jayma Mays), calls her with the unwelcome news that she's lost the reservations of two guests, and they are growing more irate with every passing minute. Luckily, Lisa knows what to do and sorts it out, then settles in for what she hopes will be an uneventful flight back to Miami. Alas, her flight is delayed and she has to settle in for a long wait in the departure lounge instead; not only that but she gets iced coffee accidentally spilled on her. Things can't get any worse - or can they?
Oh yes they can or there wouldn't be much of a film, would there? Starting out like a mild romantic comedy, Red Eye gradually cranks up the tension until it's a quite creditable Hitchcockian thriller. It was a first time movie script by Carl Ellsworth, from a story by him and Dan Roos, and also marked a change of direction for its director, horror maestro Wes Craven. Although tense, there's little of the chiller about the film, but you can see that years of experience in crafting suspense and fright sequences haven't been lost on him, as there are a fair share here.
While standing in the departure lounge queue, Lisa is impressed by a young man who defuses a situation with an angry passenger, and they strike up a conversation. He is Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), and no jokes about Jack the Ripper please, as he makes one and it isn't very funny, and he is on the same flight as Lisa. He buys her a drink and is otherwise charm personified, so when they finally board the plane she is surprised but not too disappointed to end up sitting in the seat next to his. So far so ordinary, but once the plane takes off, right into a storm, things take a turn for the worse.
Ellsworth has taken care to sketch in the other passengers, so there's the nice old lady who Lisa gives her self help book to as a favour, the two noisy brothers, the little girl on her first flight alone, and so forth. Cleverly, all these characters will have a part to play in their own small way, as Jackson reveals the awful truth: Lisa's father (Brian Cox) will be murdered if she doesn't comply with his wishes. He has been trailing her for weeks, has stolen her father's wallet to prove his intentions, and now wants her to use the plane's telephone to call her hotel and change the room of the soon to arrive head of Homeland Security so he may be assassinated.
To add to the thrills, the initially tearful Lisa (McAdams' forced development into a resourceful heroine is kept believable by the actress) tries her best to squirm out of Jackson's schemes, writing a warning in the old lady's book, or pretending to tell Cynthia to change the room although the line is dead, but the menacing, pale eyed Jackson catches her out every time. How she does manage to beat him is nicely handled, even if in the last twenty minutes it's as if the filmmakers were intent on padding the action out to an already short eighty minutes with a set up that looks more like Tom and Jerry than cat and mouse. That said, Red Eye provides solid excitement, doesn't hang around and moves fast enough for you to disregard the more far fetched elements. It's not going to be a classic, but won't let you down either. Music by Marco Beltrami.