College freshman Lewis Thomas (Paul Walker) is on his way to pick up his dream date Venna (Leelee Sobieski) for a cross country road trip, but detours to collect his older brother Fuller (Steve Zahn) from gaol. Fuller buys a cheap CB radio and goads Lewis into playing a practical joke on a truckie (known only by his handle Rusty Nail), whose voice they hear on one of the frequencies. Pretending to be a pretty blonde called Candy Cane, Lewis makes a date with Rusty Nail, but gives the motel room number of an obnoxious traveller they had met on the road. The joke quickly turns sour and laughter dissolves into terror when they discover that Rusty Nail is looking for the last laugh as well as revenge.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's what we don't see that terrifies us in Roadkill, a blistering good thriller that keeps us uneasy and perched on the edge of our seats. Director John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction) is expert at the art of unsettling us. There is a juicy build up of tension, and what starts out as a silly prank with a CB radio (pre-historic internet), becomes a deadly horror trip. It's a good script and Dahl uses all available tools – the pitch blackness of night, isolated locations, the anonymity of road-side motels; all we see and hear of the predator is a deep voice and a massive truck that creates its own evil personality. The set up takes place in the first fifteen minutes of the film, and during that time the central characters are thrust from trick to trepidation. As the story unfolds, it's not only the characters that jump every time the phone rings, it's also us, the audience. We can smell the fear, and suddenly our hearts are pumping and we can't bear to look away even for a second. Fresh from his success in The Fast and The Furious, square jawed heart-throb Paul Walker teams effectively with Steve Zahn, whose clown antics alter readily into angst-ridden apprehension. Zahn is a real scene stealer; he mimics the gasping noises heard in the motel room to the police, displaying great comic control and delivery. Yet, all the while, he is totally credible, and his wide-eyed response is a far cry from his goofy games. Leelee Sobieski is a welcome presence and the dense music score is at its most prolific when Lewis, Fuller and Venna are desperate fugitives lost in a maze in a vast, overgrown cornfield. Although there may be a few loose ends that are far-fetched, Roadkill is a superbly crafted, thoroughly enjoyable popcorn chiller, that will make you delve into the dark abyss of your own imagination.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Road Kill fits squarely into the thriller sub genre of ‘road ragers’ in which a crazed driver, almost always of a truck, threatens innocent folk out on a peaceful – or in some cases like this one - a mildly mischievous, ride. There is an appealing set of elements to work with, from America’s landscapes to America’s nightmares, all connected by a motor vehicle. In Roadkill, John Dahl constructs a very effective version of this handy genre, with the help of a terrific young cast. Steve Zahn, always a wicked presence, plays the edgy brother to perfection, while Paul Walker delivers a satisfying counterpoint. Leelee Sobieski, although not called on for much, exudes her character, and the voice of the baddie, Rusty Nail, is as suitably corroded as his name implies. Anyone keen on a movie outing to escape their dreary lives and not too fussed about the handful of implausibilities in the story will find this a wicked movie. (I find the implausibilities too distracting…) It’s the sort of mass appeal film that Hollywood survives on; effective drama, excellent technicals, vibrating score and top performances.
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CAST: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski, Matthew Kimbrough, Brien Varady
PRODUCER: J. J. Abrams and Chris Moore
DIRECTOR: John Dahl
SCRIPT: Clay Tarver, Jeffrey Abrams
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jeffrey Jur
EDITOR: Eric L. Beason, Scott Chestnut, Todd E. Miller, Glen Scantlebury
MUSIC: Marco Beltrami
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rob Pearson
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 25, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: January 8, 2003