The scary story follows Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams, from The Notebook and Mean Girls), a young woman who hates to get on an airplane, but the terror that awaits her on the night flight to Miami has nothing to do with a fear of flying. Moments after takeoff, Lisa’s seatmate, Jackson (Cillian Murphy, from Batman Begins and 28 Days Later), menacingly reveals the real reason he’s on board: He is an operative in a plot to kill the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, and Lisa is the key to its success.
If she refuses to cooperate, her own father will be killed by an assassin awaiting a call from Jackson. Trapped within the confines of a jet at 30,000 feet, Lisa has nowhere to run and no way to summon help without endangering her father, her fellow passengers and her own life. As the miles tick by, Lisa knows she is running out of time as she desperately looks for a way to thwart her ruthless captor and stop a terrible murder.
Horror.com’s Staci Layne Wilson got a chance to sit one-to-one with the director and ask him a few questions about the project.
Staci Layne Wilson/Horror.com: Although Red-Eye is not in the horror genre, it looks scary.
Wes Craven: If I have achieved that, then that’s great. It’s definitely a thriller, but it has a lot of fear in it because of the situation she’s in. Half of it is emotional and moral terror, because she’s dragged into a situation where she has to make a terrible choice between her father and somebody else whom she likes but it’s not family. It’s a very complex relationship between there two on the airplane — the revelation of what he wants her to do is the beginning of a strange struggle of wills and attraction and horror and everything else and that takes the whole second act in a way that just flies by.
[laughs] No pun intended, I’m sure… These two have almost every scene together. Did you test the actors to gauge their chemistry?
No. I hoped. I met them both separately because they were both working on other projects. He was working in Ireland and she was working someplace in the U.S. so we just met separately. Her meeting was maybe 30 minutes, and his was a lunch. He flew over from Ireland and we had lunch at the airport then literally he waved goodbye, crossed the room and caught another airplane back.
It was a gut choice, and having seen both of their films I already knew they were really good actors. I felt like they were ready to pop. These two are going to be big, I thought. Rachel is a beauty but she also runs deep and she’s got control of all the emotions and I felt like it would be a good ride with the two of them.
Oh — another pun! What about Cillian Murphy? He seems like a really interesting, well-rounded person.
The only work was making him ‘American’. He had to rework the way he spoke, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to be an actor and have to get into a character while at the same time trying to remember not to roll your R’s. I think it took him a couple of days to get it, and then he just kind of opened up. Even things like smiling; he said, ‘American guys smile a lot more. We don’t, in Europe.’ And I said, ‘I know, but you’re playing an American.’ Then he just got a lot more open with his face, in a way that was really interesting. The tricky part for him, I think, was me saying ‘That’s not American’ or ‘Here’s what you would do…’”
Was there a reason his character had to be American?
I guess it was just to make it more appealing to the audience and if I’m not mistaken, he wanted to play it that way too. All those guys that have thick accents want to not be ‘the guy with the accent’. And women, too — Nicole Kidman is a good example. You don’t hear Australian in many of her roles. Also, Neve Campbell is Canadian and when she’s just [affects accent] ‘talk-in’ she’ll say ‘aboot’ and so on. But when she’s in her roles she sounds American.
Planes are so cramped in reality — how did you make the plane set believable?
Well, we found this great place that had various types of airplanes and we settled on the Boeing 767 and you just order it by the yard. They have these modules that are about 8 feet long, and we just build an airplane on the stage. They move around in several key moments [for example, they go into the restroom] and there’s also a lot of turbulence. We had the whole thing built on a platform that had a massive amount of hydraulics. You can really see stuff flying around [so it wasn’t static at all].
I had an overhead train track put in, so I could take a camera right from the bottom of the aisle, up over people’s feet in the middle section and go down, then up, and find her at the other side of the plane, and things like that. So, you know, we just kept the camera moving. Most of it is so intense between these two people, that there’s a lot going on in just their eye contact.
So many great movies and TV shows have taken place on a plane — Air Force One, Airplane, Airport 77, and even that William Shatner episode of The Twilight Zone — did any of those come to mind as you were shooting Red-Eye?
There weren’t any conscious nods, but I certainly looked at them all.
What, no nun signing Kumbaya in your plane? [laughs]
[does not laugh along… so much for Staci’s stand-up career] No. We don’t have anything like that. It’s treated very realistically and without any winks. The situation is very intense and they’re up in the middle of the sky, near outer space so that nothing can… you can’t run away, get out a window or anything like that. So whatever’s happening you have to deal with it right there. You have no choice.
But are there any of your trademark touches of humor?
Oh, absolutely. Are you kidding? [laughs] I can’t do a film without that. There’s a lot of it.
Brian Cox plays the father of Rachel’s character — did they have any scenes together in real-time, or are they in flashbacks?
Well, the first part of it is, she’s coming into the terminal and talking to her father on the telephone. He’s in Miami, she’s in Dallas about to fly back from her [maternal] grandmother’s funeral and then he cut to him, and he’s waking around the house, the house he was raised in, and it’s being renovated. There’s scaffolding all around and so on. He’s a very appealing character, very protective of his daughter — more protective than she wants him to be.
What was it like to work with him?
He looked totally different than I thought he would. The last time I saw him was in the Bourne Supremacy and he was big and white haired. Well, he came in 40 pounds lighter, hair red, and I was like, ‘Wow! Who’s that?’ He made it a character that you believe is an American dad and like he hung around the jazz scene, or something.
Cool. Now, I know they’re on the plane a lot, but the synopsis says there’s also plenty of action.
The third act is a lot of action involving Cillian and Rachel. She manages to get off the airplane and disable him so he can’t make an important phone call. He loses all his professionalism and he wants to kill her. She makes a mad dash for her dad’s house, trying to stop the person waiting outside from [hurting him].
There’s a foot race and a car chase and then the final act takes places inside the house where she was raised as a kid, and Cillian’s character, Jack Rippner, finds himself — because he’s let his passion and anger get out of hand — in somebody else’s turf, where he doesn’t know where everything is. She’s able to escape him and since she’s been running around that house since she was a kid, it’s an interesting [dynamic]. His downfall is that he lets his emotions get into it, and earlier on the airplane he was preaching to her ‘You’re being too emotional. You have to be rational, like me.’
What’s up with the Jack Rippner name? Is that a play-on-words?
Yes, it’s a pseudonym — he father’s name is Joe Reisert, so it’s “J.R.” and his daughter gave him a wallet as a gift and we see it in the opening moments of the film. Her father walks by, tosses it on the bureau, and goes into the bathroom. You hear the shower running, and there’s a pause… then this gloved hand come in and — whoosh! — just takes it. And it turns up in the airplane with Cillian, as his proof that they have her father. So “J.R.” now stands for Jack Rippner. We don’t know his real name.
What did you draw on from your experience as a horror director in making a thriller?
The idea of a cat and mouse and having a villain that’s smart and even in some ways attractive, like how Skeet Ulrich in Scream was appealing. I’m always fascinated by the flip-flopping of things so the good people don’t always wind up totally good at all and have real flaws, and the bad people turn out to not be just monsters but they also have vulnerabilities. There are moments when you actually feel your heart go out to them in way and you say, ‘What am I thinking?’ [chuckles] That, to me, is really fascinating because that’s how real life is.
I understand that the director of High Tension, Alex Aja, is in preproduction on a film you originally made, The Hills Have Eyes.
I’m producing that with my partner, Marianne Maddalena. She’s going to be on location… I’m not. I’m going to be in Martha’s Vineyard, relaxing. I’ve been working so hard for the past few years. Cursed went on forever, and then this one was on the fast-track. So I want to take some time off, maybe write something.
I think [Alex is very talented] and he was a huge fan of the film when he was 14, so he’s delighted that he’s doing it. And they’re changing it in some very interesting ways; I think it’s going to be really fascinating.
I have been following the Masters of Horror project, and was so surprised not to see your name among the maestros. What gives?
I was working all the time. There was never time to go do that. Red-Eye overlapped with Cursed, and Cursed was very intensive — it went for over two years. It kind of sucked all the air out of the room. So I didn’t get much of a chance to go hang out with my friends, or see movies, or do anything. [At least] Red-Eye turned out good. [laughs]
Is Red-Eye going to be Rated R or PG-13?
It’s PG-13 and it was meant to be that way from the first [unlike Cursed]. One character uses the F-word and that’s what made it PG-13. It’s much more subtle and the violence is psychological. It gets physical at the end — the third act is very physical, but it’s not a blood kind of movie. It’s a thriller.
But you know horror fans will want to see it anyway.
I hope they do. It will be scary. And it’ll be fun, I think, as long as horror fans know they’re going in to see that kind of a film… that Wes Craven is his first thriller and there will be interest in seeing what he did. That will be great, and they’ll like it.
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Staci Layne Wilson reporting