Warren Fast’s Roadkill sees a young woman and a drifter end up in a murderous situation that twists and turns more than the road they travel on. There are times it might have been better to take the less challenging path, however.
The roads of North America were steeped in storytelling long before they were made of tarmac. Such a vast country to travel across almost begs for a story to be told along the way, and cinema has gifted us plenty over the years.
The Road movie is a stew made of several familiar tried and trusted ingredients, occasionally cooked with something spicier, meatier, or just plain weird to change the flavor. Even if we don’t appreciate the new taste, there can at least be recognition for the attempt at something a bit unconventional.
Which brings me back to Warren Fast’s Roadkill. It makes a stop at the roadside diner that’s served us up treats such as The Hitch-Hiker, Kalifornia, Freeway, Duel, and Joy Ride (which was also called Roadkill in some countries. There’s a few road movies called Roadkill, in fact), but changes things up from what you might expect for better and for worse.
The story of Roadkill begins with the first of two unnamed protagonists. The boy who will become ”The Hitchhiker” is shown living a horrible life as a child in a flashback. A sadistic mother is irate to find him in the family home instead of sharing the kennel outside with the dog. A brief flurry of cruelty establishes that this boy will no doubt grow up to be a troubled soul, and we meet his adult self in 1983 (played by Ryan Knudson) thumbing it back home as a down-on-his-luck vagrant. We learn later that he’s supposedly going to see his mother for her birthday, and given what we’ve seen so far and the fact the movie’s tagline is ”Driven by Revenge,” everything points towards a sinister confrontation between mother and son.
Throwing a sparkly-eyed young woman (Caitlin Carmichael, who is known only as ”The Driver”) with a hot car and a spare seat into the mix and you get a general idea of where this might be heading. Stiff performances in these quieter moments admittedly filled me with dread. With a road movie, you don’t want to go down the middle of that road.
But Roadkill does start to ask some questions I wasn’t anticipating. The Driver and The Hitchhiker both get a bit of stereotype subversion, and that detours the story somewhat into rocky ground. The performances tend to remain clunky and awkward, but the shift in gears from a narrative perspective puts a little distance between entertainment and boredom.
The revelations about The Driver unfortunately run the risk of being in poor taste, but my main concern was that there’s indecision about how to approach it. As such, it comes off like someone’s muttered the bad bit quickly and under their breath to get past it and use it as a tool for the rest of the story. But unfortunately it’s wearing a giant sandwich board of a reminder for the remainder of the film, especially in how The Driver is perceived within the context of the story.
There could be something interesting to say about how two different people grow up with similar scars and choose to handle them. Roadkill gets close, but only on one side of the story. The Driver’s side is the stronger story to tell, but it is too muddled in its execution to come to any satisfying conclusion. The Driver’s motivation seems to be caught between cinematic eras.
On the upside, once Caitlin Carmichael gets into the groove of her role, the performance benefits, and however the character may have been written, she still manages to get some juice out of it. Likewise, Ryan Knudson compensates for a largely stilted delivery when shit hits the fan by looking believably perplexed and annoyed by the escalating situation. The movie needs its quiet moments, but clearly feels more comfortable with a certain level of intensity.
Also lifting the film up is the intermittent use of a Daniel A. Davies score. Its moody synth flow occasionally pops up to feel like the perfect driving music. It’s a shame it’s often knocked off the road for some goofy filler rawk music that doesn’t gel with the mood Davies’ synth score sets.
There’s little to call spectacular in Roadkill, but I have to commend it for keeping the journey engaging despite its deficiencies. This is only Warren Fast’s second feature-length film, and there’s definitely promise in how some of Roadkill is constructed, but it’s a bumpy ride.
As per ComingSoon’s review policy, 4/10 is ”Poor”. The negatives outweigh the positive aspects making it a struggle to get through.
Roadkill is out in select theaters and on VOD on January 5, 2024.