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New Psychological Thriller <i>Red Eye</i> Draws on Real-Life Fear of Flying

Rising young stars Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy play a tense game of cat-and-mouse in a psychological thriller directed by suspense master Wes Craven. Alan Silverman has a look at Red Eye.

It seems like a chance meeting in an airport queue waiting for an overnight or "red eye" flight. Lisa, manager of a Miami luxury hotel, is on her way home after a brief, emotional trip to attend a family funeral. On board the plane, she's surprised to find herself seated next to Jackson, the nice man with whom she she shared a drink (and a bit of flirtation) at the airport bar.

However, Lisa soon learns it is more than coincidence.

Jackson is an assassin. He coolly explains that a confederate is standing by to kill Lisa's father and the only way to save him is for her to use in-flight telephone to call her hotel and have Jackson's actual target - a high level political official who is staying there - moved to a specific room.

Much of the twist on the kidnap genre plays out with the two characters in their airplane seats (Lisa against the window, Jackson in the aisle seat); and Rachel McAdams says the close quarters fueled the tension.

"It actually helped me," she says. "I found I was kind of grateful for tension that you felt in that circumstance: literally being stuck in a seat for 12 hours with this guy and the cameras are right in your face and there's all this pressure. It raised the stakes. It made everything that much more urgent and I was pretty grateful that it was set up as such."

On the other hand, Canadian native McAdams says she welcomed her character's attempt to fight back as what starts out as a mind game becomes a thrilling chase.

"It was very physically challenging and I love that. I'm always up for that," she says. " It gets me out of my head and it's exhilarating and I love the choreography - having an athletic background, I love the dance that goes into making a great fight sequence."

Irish-born Cillian Murphy says his challenge - and what attracted him - was playing the dual role. First he has to charm Lisa (and the audience) before he reveals his deadly, true self.

"The psychological stuff was okay. It was some of the physical stuff that I found quite difficult to do," he says, "because it's unpleasant stuff and Rachel is so cool and sweet; but you're an actor and that's what you have to do. For the physical stuff, it's all about rehearsal, making sure each person is safe and trust each other with it. The psychological stuff is grand. That's getting inside the mind of somebody and behaving in a way that you would never, ever conceive of doing and not using our moral framework: all that stuff is fascinating."

Director Wes Craven is well known for horror films, but in Red Eye he does not employ the supernatural or freakish monsters. The softspoken former university English professor says much of the psychological tension in this film is drawn from real-life fears about flying that are undeniably linked to the 2001 terror attacks.

"Yes, I think it would be the '800 pound gorilla' in the room. You can't ignore 9/11," he says. "When I read the script and sat down with the studio, the typical question to the director they are considering is 'What's your vision of our film?' and I said 'What I want to do is in the third act, I would like to amplify the fact that she ends up fighting this guy in the house that she grew up in.' To me it was very important and, by extension, it was saying to the audience 'I know that in some part of your soul you're longing for your country to be fighting on a level playing field.' I just felt that's what this picture is about, in a way: that sense of what the world is like right now. That's where the vein is. That's the way it taps into people's feelings in a way that you might not if this were just a conventional thriller."

Rachel McAdams believes that connection to reality makes this bit of fiction particularly compelling.

"I love thrillers. I don't like horror," she says. " No offense to Wes Craven, but it's a compliment that I haven't seen a lot of his horror films because I know they are just too scary for me; but there's nothing like a good thriller to get your heart pumping and get you on the edge of your seat. It's great to leave the theater feeling kind of exhausted. That's how felt after I saw the movie and I knew what was going to happen."

Red Eye also features English character actor Brian Cox as Lisa's father, whose fate is linked to the political assassination attempt.