Airborne review

by Sean McLaughlin

I must admit, as a kid who grew up on the original Star Wars franchise I relish any chance to observe the cinematic tour-de-force known as “Le Mark Hamill”. Unfortunately, chances to witness Mr. Hamill’s repeated attempts to step out of the Skywalker shadow have waned in recent years, with perhaps his greatest non-Lucasfilm role being that of the diabolical villain Cocknocker in 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. So when HNN graciously slid Image Entertainment’s Airborne on to my desk for a review, I was eager to not only be entertained by a horror movie set at 30,000 feet, but also to see how the international cast can pull off yet another claustrophobic plane caper without travelling down well-worn territory. The answer, along with Hamill’s steady performance from ground control, is that they did a pretty good and job and managed to add elements of horror, suspense and occasional humor to create a rather good little film.

Airborne, directed by Dominic Burns and featuring a mostly-British cast, begins on an eerie and storm-swept night, as one last red-eye flight prepares for departure from a London airport. The motley crew of passengers and employees includes someone of unclear yet unrivaled importance (Alan Ford), a couple of army men, a young couple, a conspiracy theorist (Simon Phillips), a ragtag group of stewards/stewardesses, and only a few others on this lonely journey. In fact, the cargo being hauled seems to be of more importance than the actual humans, and that’s the big mystery. As strange events begin to unfold and passengers disappear one-by-one, the crew begin questioning each other in one big paranoid effort to figure where this plane is going (original destination: New York) and who is really in charge.

When viewing this film, it’s easy to assume that this is yet another airway hijacking with some people involved and others simply innocent victims. However, Airborne takes a nice From Dusk Till Dawn-type of twist which throws a supernatural element into the mix seemingly out of nowhere and raises the bar exponentially. I suppose you can liken it to Passenger 57 meets Snakes on a Plane meets Red Eye, but director Burns (who also has a brief but important role in the film’s beginning stages) does a fair job of forging its own identity. The plane cabin scenes have an often frantic and always nervous tension to them, which moves the viewer along from calm to suspense to helpless horror. This atmosphere is turned up a few notches once the cockpit is revealed and the stakes are raised. There is a good amount of blood, but nothing over the top which would remove whatever investment you’ve made already. Fingers are pointed, agendas are revealed, and heroes are created….all without a clear plan of which horror must be defeated first: greed of man or the evil of the demon that wants to rule the world. All of this is in stark contrast to the uninformed speculation happening on the ground, as Hamill and his men at air traffic control must decide what is going on but, more importantly, how they have to deal with it.

Hamill has never had an issue with dramatic roles, but I’d have to think this is one of his best. As air traffic controller Malcolm, he’s portraying a man at the end of the line. This is his last day before retirement, and nothing would make him happier than an incident-free night with a big happy sendoff at the end. What he gets, however, is the exact opposite. His entire life is flipped upside down, as he faces an impossible decision on what to do with a runaway flight, unresponsive and potentially dangerous. Every move is a wrong one, no matter what. The passengers need his leadership, but there’s no way for him to provide it. As his world comes crashing in, Hamill does his best to show this man at the end of his rope. The rest of the cast, for the most part, is superb as well. Of course, my favorite has to be Alan Ford’s Max, a man who has bodyguard protection but it’s not certain why. You may recognize Ford from the hit Snatch, as he played one of my favorite characters “Brick Top”. In Airborne, his role is essentially exactly the same which should make some Brit-cinema fans rather happy.

After getting through the identity crisis that Airborne has at first, it is a rather good film. There are enough twists and blood to keep devotees of both thrillers and horror movies sated, and the ending is not quite was could be billed as “Hollywood”. And for Star Wars geeks like me, hearing a powerful man say “You may fire when ready” in the presence of Mark Hamill is enough to bring a smile to my face.

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