Dominic Burns's Airborne starts out as a film that appears to be making the most out of the basic formula of films set aboard airplanes. Air traffic controller Malcolm (played by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill), sends one last plane off into the night as he London skies grow ominous and stormy. The plane is not full and understaffed, but populated by characters that include a British gangster and his two bodyguards, a heartbroken alcoholic, a mysterious flight attendant who may be a terrorist, and a pair of soldiers with violent pasts, and a create containing an ancient vase that is about to be sold at auction for millions.
Airplanes might be, statistically, one of the safest ways to travel, but they’re also quintessentially good settings for a thriller. Characters are suspended thousands of feet above the ground, often over the ocean, for hours at a time, with no means of escape. There are only a few select people on board who can get them to safely, and if something happens to them, the plane plummets from the sky and everyone else is doomed. If there is a murderer, a virus, or, God forbid, a crate load of poisonous snakes (ahem) loose on the plane, there is no way out but into mid air and death. It’s a claustrophobic location filled with strangers, any of who could be something other than what they seem. It seems like a formula for a film filled with twists, turns, and natural human anxiety.
There are multiple reasons for this routine flight to go awry, and naturally it does. Passengers disappear, meet violent ends, and discover all number of disturbing secrets about each other. However, the plot is a mess, and none of this information is presented in a coherent way. Rather than create a terrifyingly chaotic atmosphere, filmmaker and actor Dominic Burns and screenwriter Paul Chronnell create flat-out chaos, in a way that is less thrilling and more confusing. The film cannot decide whether it is a horror film, a supernatural thriller, a serious drama, or something in between; the constant genre-hopping is more dizzying than the worst bout of turbulence.
By the time Airborne winds to its absurdly improbable ending, it is hard for the audience to care very much for anyone on the screen, except maybe to feel vague nostalgia for Hamill. At the very least, it could have had the potential to at least be a violent camp masterpiece in the vein of Snakes on a Plane, but even against that film’s wild inconsistencies it comes up short.
DVD Bonus Features
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"Airborne" is on sale October 16, 2012 and is not rated. Thriller. Directed by Dominic Burns. Written by Paul Chronnell. Starring Craig Conway, Gemma Atkinson, Mark Hamill.