If we survived a massive disaster, such as an aeroplane crash and were one of the lucky few to do so – how would that affect people mentally and emotionally? That, initially at least, is where Passengers starts to come from. First and foremost, Passengers is more of a thriller than a disaster movie but I really enjoyed the concept and execution of the story. It’s an underplayed story that drew me in with some great acting and a tight runtime in spite of about 10 minutes of pensive look at the camera shots.
The disasters faced
A plane crash, snooping spies, heights, trains, cars, a yappy dog and the creepiest nice neighbour who I’m still awaiting a slasher horror sequel from.
Passengers opens with the wreckage of a plane crash on a beach. There Eric is wandering around dazed and confused having survived the crash along with just a few others – Shannon, Janice, Dean and Norman. Just two of the five are named after Lost characters! Whereas the latter four are all traumatised by the event, Eric seems to have been pushed into a state of euphoria as if he has been born again.
Enter Claire, a psychologist who has been put in charge of working with the group to help them on the road to recovery. Eric refuses to attend the group sessions and demands one on one appointments where he proceeds to go on the charm offensive to woo Claire off her feet. Claire is uptight and cautious but Eric is basically grinding the poor woman down as well. The attention must be welcome though as they’ll be making out and getting naked by halfway through the movie…
This is a problem on two accounts. Firstly, Claire has crossed a patient/psychologist line when she is concerned that Eric has developed some kind of extrasensory perception as a result of surviving the crash. Secondly, her frankly awkward group sessions are falling apart because no one is getting closure on the plane crash. They do not all have the same recollection of what happened and whilst Dean and Norman think an explosion has taken place, Shannon is not so sure and Janice still can’t speak about anything. In trying to help them find closure she speaks to Arkin from the airline but he is stating that the entire thing was pilot error and begins to keep a watchful eye on the group as members of it start to disappear.
So who is right? Is Eric now some kind of savant? Is Arkin doing something to the survivors? Can Claire stop it and find the truth?
Why is it worth watching?
The acting is on the whole really well done. Anne Hathaway is quite underplayed as Claire spending most of the film looking mildly annoyed or pensively confused. Eric played by Patrick Wilson is excellently portraited as a maniac high on the edge of collapse as he worries not all is as it seems. My personal shoutout is for Clea DuVall as Shannon. She is a resentful broken mess and she plays it so well.
Next up is the story itself and for this paragraph, we are in spoiler territory so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know the plot. The film foreshadows a lot of the underlying plot of the film which you’ll spot on a second run through. The passengers all being dead is something I was thinking of during my first watch, but I hadn’t quite grasped or guessed the major plot twist on the first watch. I had more questions than answers, especially around them not understanding all the people whom had come back for them – particularly in the case of our lead as its an Aunt and a teacher. It felt a bit random when others get pet dogs, parents and so on who have died. That said, the film does try to wrap it all up nicely with some high-level answers and cuddles. When you watch the film back, you’ll notice Arkin and Janice will know each other, Eric doesn’t reflect in a car window, Shannon is running away from her parents as she thinks they’re ghosts and the unnamed man whose lost his memory but knows Norman was sat next to him on the plane. There’s plenty of unpicking a-ha’s to be had if you want to go looking and gloss over the general otherworld theory.
The other thing I really liked about the film was the musical score, which I ended up buying separately. In keeping with Passengers’ low key almost drab colour palette, Edward Sheamur’s score is a pensive circular piano one. It plays little motifs that are nice to listen to but are also slightly off on a seventh or minor key to let you know things are not quite alright.
The plane crash site itself is really well done. It is a bloodless carnage fest (thus giving it a 12 rating) but the set is great. The same can also be said when we get to see the plane crash unfold during flashbacks. There are a couple of locked off cameras that follow the action and they give some dramatic pictures.
Whilst I’ve already explained the characters at a broadstroke in the story above, it is worthwhile mentioning there are some really poignant stories here that I wish had been given a little more screen time. Arkin’s story arc when you think about post-film is one of real tragedy and regret. Shannon’s story gets some time to be resolved but I wanted to spend more time with her too.
‘What is scary about commitment is that your life becomes real. It is not a plan, it is not what you had hoped for. It is real.’
Three memorable moments
- The final flashback showing the plane crash in its entirety
- Eric testing out his theories by standing in front of an oncoming train
- The conversation between Arkin and Claire on her sisters’ porch
The obligatory weird moment…
On first viewing, I simply put ‘Nose Kissing!!!’ here but on repeat viewings, Eskimo make-outs seem to have been normalised in my brain. Now its the sheer creepiness of Toni, Claire’s well-meaning but frankly evil neighbour. Her smile and stilted butterfly speaking tone make her seem utterly nuts. I have a nutty neighbour in real life and she fits the profile perfectly. SPREAD YOUR WINGS! Also, on the DVD there’s a making-of featurette where Andre Braugher’s first name is spelt Andrea. Oops!
The drinking game
Much of Anne Hathaway’s acting here is to look like she wants to tell you off at the camera but is way above doing that… but grr. It’s a bit like when you are trying to let a tiny fart out in public but you aren’t sure if it’ll make audible sound or not. She does it a lot – you will drink a lot more!
I can see why people would bash this movie but actually, I quite enjoyed it. The whole plot has a hole the size of a porn star in it when you think about it. However, if you take it all at face value its good rounded entertainment. I hope I’ve been cryptic enough with the review to not spoil it for you if you are new to it. I’ve been flippant (and I think that’s part of my enjoyment, to be honest) but there is a good-hearted tale here if you like your disaster movies with supernatural romance on the side.
Rating: 4 / 5 Excellent
If you liked Passengers then you may like…
- Fearless – a drama about a sole survivor of a disaster and how he copes with it
- The Mountain Between Us – another plane crash romance but more survival-based
- Sully Miracle on the Hudson – similar in tone, feel, reenactment and disaster
If you like what I do, and would like to help me make better and more content then please consider supporting me via Patreon. Thank you.
*This review was updated on 14/09/19 to the new ILDM review format*