Master of horror Wes Craven moves into the thriller genre, showing us that scary is scary, with or without grotesque killers (A Nightmare on Elm Street) or grotesque killings (the Scream trilogy). Craven’s sure sense of pace and ability to make the characters real enough to pull us in without becoming distracting makes this tense little film into a real heart-pounder.
It begins by almost lulling the audience into thinking we’re about to watch a romance. Lisa (Rachel McAdams) is an efficient young woman who is used to staying calm around people who are upset. She handles customer relations at a luxury hotel. When she is stuck at a Texas airport on her way back to Miami after her grandmother’s funeral, she strikes up a conversation with Jackson (Cillian Murphy of 28 Days Later), a sympathetic and charming stranger.
The plane finally boards and it turns out they are seated together. And then it turns out that is not coincidence. Lisa is in for a turbulent ride. And so are we.
Jackson is also an expert at staying calm and very efficient at what he does. He is an assassin. One of his colleagues is waiting outside Lisa’s father’s house. Jackson tells Lisa that her father will be tortured and killed if she does not call her notel to move a visiting dignitary to a different room.
Lisa is trapped, physically and psychologically. Jackson makes it clear that she won’t be getting any help from anyone on the plane. The pressure keeps increasing as the time gets shorter and she understands more about what she is risking.
Craven uses the claustrophobic confines of the airplane extremely well, keeping things moving enough to create visual interest but always making us aware of how vulnerable and limited Lisa feels. Then the plane lands. The landscape expands, but the tension tightens. (A quibble, though, about the treatment of the Deputy Director of Homeland Security, who travels like a rock star, not a bureaucrat, violating several federal laws and providing a “hey, wait a minute” reaction that momentarily takes us out of the movie.)
McAdams makes Lisa appealing and believeable and Murphy shows us the charm and the chill of the sociopath. But the star of the show here is Craven, who knows how to make a thriller thrill.
Parents should know that this is a very intense thriller with near-constant tension and peril. There are some scary surprises and brief graphic images. Characters are injured and killed. There is a scene in a bar. Characters drink and one becomes a little tipsy. There are brief sexual references and a few uses of profanity.
Families who see this movie should talk about Lisa’s job and past experiences affected the way she responded to Jackson.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Nick of Time with Johnny Depp and Collateral with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. They may also enjoy some of the other airport-based films, including dramas (The Terminal, Airport), romances (Jet Lag), and one of the most outrageously funny comedies of all time, Airplane! (mature material).