“Red Eye” (2005) – A.J. Hakari

2005 brought us not one but two thrillers with the title Red Eye. Most people are familiar with the American one, a fun and refreshingly taut tale that represented a return to form for the waning career of director Wes Craven. However, there’s nothing invigorating about the other Red Eye, a Korean import that falls right in line with recent slate of stale Asian horror flicks. Its beginning scenes promise a more fearful experience than its scareless brethren, but the further Red Eye chugs along, the more you realize that this is one train that’s gone way off the rails.

Rather than celebrate at home with friends and family, Mi-sun (Sin-young Jang) has strangely opted to spend her birthday working at her new job as a railroad attendant. The occasion is a bittersweet one, for it’s this particular train’s last route after a long term of service — as well as a very dark history. Back in the ’80s, a horrible accident claimed the lives of hundreds of passengers, and after some of the cars left over from the tragedy were added onto this engine, rumors quickly sprouted of ghosts lurking about. Mi-sun dismisses the whole thing as an urban myth, until a number of strange incidents start to convince her otherwise. In the wake of some mysterious deaths and passengers with a tendency to vanish into thin air, Mi-sun discovers that the train is indeed haunted, forcing her to act quick before a couple of vengeful spirits complete their plan of making the events of that terrible night happen all over again.

The problem that hurts Red Eye the most, and it’s what usually tends to tick me off most about horror movies, is that it has no sense of discipline whatsoever. It’s one thing to establish an “anything goes” universe, where viewers can expect the unexpected around every corner. But what Red Eye does is pull characters and plot threads out of thin air, assembles them into something that resembles a story, then expects the audience to pick up the pieces. Don’t be surprised to find yourself spending most of the running time just trying to figure out who’s who. I understand that the filmmakers tried going for a combination ghost story and disaster movie mentality, setting up all the usual archetypes of the latter genre (the young punks, the newlywed couple, etc.) before walloping them with a dose of the supernatural. But halfway through the film, the script pretty much forgets that two-thirds of the passengers even exist, and without spoiling anything, some of them meet a fate that comes completely out of left field.

It’s a shame that Red Eye’s seemingly simple plot is as complicated as it is, because on the outset, it seems to buck the grind that most Asian horror flicks find themselves repeating. The filmmakers seem more concentrated on building up an aura of menace instead of assaulting the viewers with fake-out scares galore. The cramped train setting is a novel one, lending a sense of claustrophobia to the production that helps it more to feel like a haunted house on wheels. But even the scares are hurt by the film’s careless storytelling, especially one moment involving a ghost emerging from a pool of blood (an admittedly cool effect) that’s ruined because of the fact that you have no clue who it’s supposed to be, even though the movie expects you to. At least we can be thankful for Sin-young Jang’s sympathetic performance, providing a heroine who’s not completely dense but still genuinely freaked-out by the ghostly goings-on around her.

Though not as liable to inspire hurling one’s TV out the window like Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On series, Red Eye is a bummer nonetheless. It has a touch of class and a lot more ambition than the legion of Ringu imitators out there, but it’s not long before this flick hands you a one-way ticket to boredom.

Rating: ★★☆☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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