Passengers is the anti-Snakes on a Plane, but a horrific wreck does set things into motion (ala TV's "Lost", and movies like Alive or Fearless) in the form of an existential mystery. While the words "existential mystery" hardly scream HORROR, I think many genre fans will appreciate Passengers' likeness to mind-harrowing thrillers like Jacob's Ladder, Stay, and The Others.
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (whose accomplished series television work can be enjoyed on the "In Treatment" Season One DVD), this compelling tale of an overwhelmed young therapist (Claire, played by Anne Hathaway) and her reluctant patient, crash survivor Eric (Patrick Wilson) is genuinely absorbing. It is not a revelatory movie (the "gotcha" at the end is not hard to see coming), but the trip is one worth taking and the acting is aces. Hathaway and Wilson command the screen quietly and powerfully, while the auxiliary cast (including David Morse, Dianne Weist, Clea DuVall, and Andre Braugher) compliments them nicely. Everyone is just slightly off-kilter, adding to the inherent eeriness of the situation.
There are many chilling and creepy passages in Passengers, especially in the moments in which Claire desperately tries to solve the mystery of some rather suspicious disappearances. When the story begins, she is heading up grief-counseling for the small band of survivors who were able to walk away from the disaster. But when questions are raised about the cause of the crash, and who was at fault, her group of survivors dwindles. Is the corporation behind the airline up to no good? Why are these people vanishing? Are they suspects, suicides, or targets? And is Eric really seeing ghosts? (There's a singularly nerve-tingling moment involving a disquieting dog, whose eyes have such depth and are so searching, he should get a Best Supporting Actor nomination.)
If you like haunting dramas, if plane crash scenes get you by the gonads, and if a cast with gravitas piques your interest, then the overlooked feature Passengers is definitely one for the DVD must-see list.
The Blu-ray treatment helps the atmospheric, painterly cinematography shine, and the sound design of the plane crash resonates to the last tinkle of broken window glass landing on the metal fuselage floor. (Especially if you are a serious cinefile with all the up-to-date equipment — HDTV and stereo surround are essential for the entire experience.)
The extras on the disc are interesting; not altogether outside the box (I would have been interested in learning more about the psychological ramifications of surviving such a crash, and maybe a mini-doc along the lines of "Seconds From Disaster"), but the ones on how the plane was replicated and how those very complex and dangerous scenes were conceived and filmed are nonetheless pretty riveting.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson