RED EYE directed by Wes Craven, written by Carl Ellsworth, with Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy and Brian Cox. A DreamWorks release. 85 minutes. Opens Friday (August 19). For venues and times, see Movies, page 86. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
After taking in his considerable height, his slight accent and the fact that he looks pretty spry for a guy in his mid-60s, the first thing you notice about horror-meister Wes Craven is that he's so damned soft-spoken.
The director of the Scream movies barely speaks above a whisper.
"I lead a pretty tranquil life," says the Spielberg of the horror genre.
So those violent, dangerous, bloody impulses behind films like A Nightmare On Elm Street and Shocker only come out in his work?
"Yes, and also in racquetball and video games," he jokes. "But, hey, everybody's got that stuff in them. I just have easier access to it."
His latest film, Red Eye, marks a departure to straight suspense, although Craven claims he's been unfairly labelled as a director of slasher movies. He even directed Meryl Streep to her umpteenth Oscar nomination in 1999's Music Of The Heart.
"There's a lot of ignorance about horror films," he says. "People who don't like horror films don't go to see them, so they don't know who's doing what. A trailer might make a film look like there's a guy with a knife and nothing else. But look at Sidney Prescott from Scream. Her story is about family, deception and hurt. I think the success of those films had as much to do with that as with the horror. But that story is pretty difficult to put in a trailer."
Speaking of trailers, those for Red Eye have been among the savviest of the year. They start off with new it-girl Rachel McAdams bumping into 28 Days Later's Cillian Murphy in an airport. They flirt, she flashes her incredible smile. Aha - a romantic comedy.
Not so fast. Cut to the interior of the airplane, where they're sitting next to each other. Murphy says something threatening, McAdams registers panic, and then Craven's name - in red - flashes across the screen. There's gonna be turbulence, folks.
"I think there's danger in romance and flirtation," he says when I ask him about the juxtaposition of sex and fear.
"You're committing yourself much faster than your higher brain will allow. It can turn out pretty badly. And certainly after 9/11, each time you fly you have to wonder, "Who's on the plane with me?" You don't know who you can trust. I liked that it was dealing with those fears."
Also on the menu are spine-chilling airplane noises (don't expect this to show up as an in-flight movie) and a genuine feeling of claustrophobia, enhanced by the fact that a big chunk of the film was shot inside a 747.
"We were all in the same encased set," he says. "There was only one scene where we opened a hatch near Rachel's seat to get a reaction shot from her. It was incredibly cramped."
Why the move, relatively late in his career, away from horror?
"I've done what I feel I had to do in that field," he says. "There's a horror film opening every weekend. Everyone's doing these remakes or stealing from Japanese ghost stories.
"I don't want to be in the middle of a herd."
That's not to say Craven won't deal with violence and danger, which are part of everyday life.
"Look at what's going on in the world right now," he says. "Life is a Bill Moyers program. It's always been a struggle to survive. Did the Japanese win? Or did we win? Did the Vietcong win? Do they get their own country? All these things are determined by a bunch of guys going out and trying to kill each other."
RED EYE (Wes Craven) Rating: NNN
Red Eye marks Wes Craven's pretty smooth attempt to change gears from horror to suspense. Rachel McAdams plays a workaholic hotel manager forced by Cillian Murphy's freaky blue-eyed seatmate to assist him in a murder or her daddy (Brian Cox) will die. The plot's logic leaves you light-headed, but Craven jacks up the tension carefully, initially giving us sexual flirtation with a whiff of danger and then making us cringe with turbulence and claustrophobia.
Murphy delivers his second bizarro meanie of 2005 - his first was Batman Returns' Scarecrow - and McAdams (The Notebook, Wedding Crashers) continues her love affair with the camera. Her final-act transformation to in-charge heroine is thrilling to watch.