Trains are cool. It's probably a guy thing, and I'm sure Freud would get a kick out of this one, but there's just something really appealing about those metal machines thundering down the tracks. Unstoppable. Unable to veer from their path. Unavoidable. Much like death, come to think of it.
The rain is falling heavily as train attendant Mi-sun arrives at work, the final run on the line from Seoul to Yeosu. This is not just the last ride of the day, but the last ride altogether as the line is being permanently closed down.
Several years ago, in 1988, there was a terrible accident on this line, a train crashed and hundreds of people were killed. The event is still used as a spooky story among those who work on the train. Naturally the passengers are unaware of this, as they take their seats busy with other thoughts. Meanwhile the staff readies the train, and Mi-sun prepares for what promises to be an uneventful trip.
As usual the passengers is a mixed group. There is a bunch of soldiers on leave and a some of teenagers documenting ghost stories, with the help of a young psychic girl. There's a kid travelling alone who's drawing some gruesome pictures, a professor on his way to an important lecture, and a young couple who, oblivious to the world, are busy making out almost before the train pulls out of the station. When Mi-sun pushes the little cart with refreshments through the train she gets to meet them all.
The train is rolling along nicely and everything is going according to plan, when suddenly the train operator sees something in front of the train and he hits the brakes. Oddly there's nothing on the tracks and the train resumes its journey. But something happened while the train was standing still. Something bad. Some of the passengers don't seem to notice, others feel like a cold rush of air just swept past them, and as for Mi-sun, she quickly senses that something is horribly wrong.
When something spooks her, Mi-sun stumbles into another car, and suddenly finds herself in a different place. Everything looks strange and the car is filled with passengers she doesn't recognise. Then she accidentally picks up a newspaper, and her heart skips a beat. The date is all wrong. The newspapers says its 1988!
It can't be true, but it is. Mi-sun is standing in the middle of the train that crashed 16 years ago. Somehow her train has merged with the old train, but what does that mean? Will the train of the present share the fate of the train from the past? And if so, is this going to be last ride for Mi-sun as well?
From the hardcore drama of "Runaway Train", over the silly comedy antics in "Silver Streak", to the Korean Die-Hard-on-a-train action flick "Tube", trains have provided an excellent location for more than a couple of films.
"Red Eye" opens by taking the set-up from an "Airport"-style old-fashioned disaster movie. First we're introduced to the primary location, casually the sordid history of this particular train is explained and our main protagonist arrives at the scene. Then comes the introduction of the canon fodder. The unfortunate characters who are destined for doom somewhere during the course of the film. There are a lot of characters, but luckily it's not important to remember all their names, and they're easily distinguishable, so there's little confusion as to who's who.
With the characters and locations properly established, "Red Eye" adopts the makings of a classic haunted house movie. First there's the strange noise, and glimpses of something dark, the passengers get increasingly disturbed and those who wander off by themselves meet a gruesome end. This is where the film begins to sneak into the style of a modern Asian horror film - with those classic "what-the-hell-is-that-thing-and-why-is-it-crawling-towards-me" moments - and as the spookiness is turned up, the central mystery is slowly revealed.
And that's it. That's what you get. It's not terribly original, most of it we've seen before, but there're enough cool little details and inventive moments to call this a success. The train setting alone is enough to make the film feel a little different and fresh. When the real world and the ghost world are brought together and the darkness starts to spread through the train, we get some very effective creepy moments. The shadows come alive, things are crawling around on the walls, and there's the sound of crying. Like I said, it's not new, but it works.
Immerse yourself in enough Asian horror movies, and you'll soon find yourself in a perpetual state of déjà vu, "Red Eye" won't change that. So decide now, have you seen enough Asian horror movies to last a lifetime? Are you looking for something radically different? Then skip this one.
Personally I liked "Red Eye", but there're two things I want to point out. One, this is as much a slow-moving thriller, as a horror film. Don't mistake it for an all-out fright-feast, because your heart won't be racing from the first frame to the last. Two, the ending was a little unsatisfying. The film grinds to a halt in the climactic scene, and it was missing the big bang finish I had hoped for.
But despite these two bumps in the road, the over-all experience was good. The route is well-travelled, and the scenery familiar, but this is one trip worth taking more than once. And if you should feel like taking it again, "Red Eye" is as good a ride as any.