Reviewed by James A. Janisse
Airborne, an Image Entertainment production, premiered earlier this year at the British International Film Festival. It’s been getting billed as a horror film, but it’s more of a thriller or mystery, at least until the second half. The main drawing point seems to be Mark Hamill, though his role is confined to a subplot that never gets off the ground (zing!). The A-story follows a small group of passengers on a red eye flight in the middle of a huge Atlantic storm. Some passengers begin to disappear, others notice and freak out, and the whole thing escalates into a hijacking with a supernatural twist.
Airborne grabs you pretty quickly with its sleek and sexy style, and although you might think back to Final Destination as director Dominic Burns briefly checks-in with all the passengers before they board, it’s easy to just go along with it and enjoy the ride. The movie will seem familiar because it’s cliche, going so far as to include a menacing trumpet flair after a character announces a murder, but most of the time that doesn’t work against it. The characters, for instance, aren’t anything more than simple stereotypes – pompous old rich guy, wise-cracking military buddies, a young horny couple – but put those stereotypes on a small plane and make them panic and it’s still a lot of fun to watch.
An airplane is a great location for a film like this and unlike Wes Craven’s 2005 film Red Eye, Airborne never abandons the setting for safer ground. The whole thing feels claustrophobic and eerie, especially as the passengers slowly start to piece together that things aren’t right. One, a frequent flier, realizes that the plane is turning when it should be flying straight; another sees a spot of blood on the floor. There’s a sort of Twilight Zone feel to it all, and although it later adapts more slasher elements, picking off the passengers one-by-one, the movie always escalates nicely, raising the tension and excitement in tandem with the body count.
There are some things that feel pretty amateur. Most of the dialogue is just plain bad. Strangers open up to one another and share life stories, the hijackers comprehensively explain their motive and plan, and worst of all is when Julian Glover delivers a monologue over the plane speakers. When the film takes its disappointing supernatural turn, even that gets talked to death, the spirit onboard explained in full detail to the characters and audience. Combined with cheap-looking flashbacks that shade in murder scenes better left blank, it’s obvious that writer Paul Chronnell needs to learn more about “show, don’t tell”.
In case you’re wondering about Mark Hamill, the man does a good job with his role, though he’s nearly unrecognizable in both appearance and sound. That is, until he yells. As soon as he starts yelling you can hear Luke Skywalker all the way down. His character’s storyline, an air traffic controller on his last shift before retirement, is mostly just padding, sometimes getting put on hold long enough to be forgotten. It’s a bit of a shame, but like I said, he works with what he’s given and it’s definitely the stand-out performance of the film. Much better than fellow Star Wars cast member Julian Glover, whose awful lines are croaked out with an elderly rasp that comes off as cheesy.
Airborne has a promising take-off but never develops any substance. When it’s not being cliche, it’s not making sense, and it relies so much on its flashy style that it sometimes substitutes special effects for plot points. With a little more time in the writing phase, Airborne might have been a successful airplane thriller, but as it stands, it’s mostly a let-down.
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