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When we were kids, we listened intently to the child-like Gothic horror of those classic fairy tales. Little Riding Hood comes to mind. The new movie, Freeway, from first-time director Matthew Bright, puts a contemporary twist to the classic tale, but be warned: this ain't kids' stuff.
Paul Fischer reports.

Explaining its fairy tale derivations, Bright explains that "the whole thing really came out of laziness. I had all these great characters that I wanted to show off and get them to do their thing and show that world. I already had a ready-made plot in Little Red Riding Hood, so why not do it. Then I thought I would just sort of do it and follow it myself but not have any reference to Little Red Riding Hood, and people might not even notice. But it ended up being much more true than I had originally thought it would be."

Reese Witherspoon is astonishing as a sexually abused teenager whose mother is a prostitute, whose father is a drunk and lech. So when the parents end up being arrested, she heads off in search of her grandmother. The 'big bad wolf' in the picture turns out to be a psychologist (Kiefer Sutherland), who gives her a lift, but turns out to be a serial killer-cum-rapist who preys on young women. The abused teenager discovers that she has more balls and a killer instinct than she ever thought possible, and the roles become unexpectedly reversed, with chilling results.

"It's a relentless downer to play a scum-bag for week in and week out."

It's a tough film, often intensely violent with some of the most graphic language seen in mainstream American cinema. So it was never going to be an easy film to finance or to cast, for that matter. "Before Oliver Stone's involvement, it was really difficult to get ANYBODY into it to get the movie made. When Oliver came in, they liked it because it was fun stuff." The toughest part to cast was the villain of the piece, ultimately played by Sutherland. "Most actors are resistant to that type of role; they like to play something kind of heroic. It's a relentless downer to play a scum-bag for week in and week out."

Freeway caused considerable controversy when it opened in the states, and had to be cut in order to receive the more palatable R-rating. The controversy surrounding the film did not come as a major surprise to the director. "It's so much a product of me; it's what I've gone through my whole life. It's very hard for me to fathom the reason for it." But Bright also concedes that their may well be parallels between the censorship controversy endured by the film, and his own experiences. "Whatever it is that somebody might find offensive in the film, they seem to find offensive about myself, or other things that I write. I wrote this script for the people that it portrays, and those people are never on censorship boards."

"Sequel to Freeway: based on Hansel and Gretel, but the Hansel character is now a woman"

Bright began his career as a screenwriter, and ended up directing Freeway, which he always wrote, "because it seemed the logical thing to do at the time." The film was considerably successful, and has won numerous prizes in the Festival circuit, the latest being Korea. "And a result, I've now discovered Asian cinema", and so his next film, just to be different, will focus on Pol Pot told from the perspective "of the 12-year olds who made up his army. It's a fascinating story." He's also written a sequel to Freeway, based on Hansel and Gretel, but the Hansel character "is now a woman, so it's going to be a story of teenage Lesbianism." But no sex. "I don't want to put any sex in my movies until I've discovered the extremes of love and passion. Then the movie I do would have to be pornographic, since I believe in going all the way." The mind boggles!

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Matthew Bright, director


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: Melb, Adelaide:Dec 4, 1997 Sydney, Brisbane: Dec 11, 1997

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