Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Xavier Samuel, Sophie Lowe, Georgina Haig, Bob Morley
Directed by Dean Francis
Distributed by Lightning Entertainment
Being a massive admirer of Australian horror films dating back to the Anthony I. Ginnane era of the 70s and 80s, all the way up to the Greg McLean duo of Wolf Creek and Rogue, I’m always excited to sit down with a previously unseen Aussie horror flick. I’d go so far as to say I come away a happy man 85% of the time so, upon discovery that Road Kill (original title Road Train, changed presumably because we Yanks wouldn’t know what the hell a road train was) was culled from a few independent filmmakers down under, I couldn’t wait to give it a watch.
Beginning like a cross between Duel and another superior Aussie flick, Road Games, we find a foursome of twenty-somethings on a camping trip through the Australian Outback. Almost immediately, they encounter a massive ‘road train’ (a double flatbed truck with a shipping container strapped to each) on the highway and the hostile vehicle rams them off the road, totaling their vehicle.
Despite a promising beginning with potentially interesting characters and a creepy, intimidating concept (a sinister road train), Road Kill squanders its potential by hurling itself off the rails, descending into rank absurdity: Fearing the harsh elements of the Outback, our heroes commandeer the seemingly stranded road train and quickly find themselves stranded once again. This time when the driver, under the influence of the mysterious vehicle, loses the main road and inadvertently pilots the truck up a narrow pass from which it can’t easily be reversed out of. The potential road which could be used to turn the truck around is conveniently ignored (despite glimpsing it numerous times in clumsy master shots) until the opportune climax in which it is used to escape. Such sloppiness is intrinsic of the duration, and Road Kill quickly becomes an experience where you find yourself yelling at the screen – even if you’re not normally that guy. You will be while sitting through this nonsense.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Director Dean Francis and writer Clive Hopkins saddle their film with some of the most unsympathetic kids in recent memory. The repressed jealously brimming beneath the surface of Marcus (Xavier Samuel) and Craig’s (Bob Morley) friendship is the crux of the group’s dysfunction, but it’s never handled in a believable way. For example, when one of the couples decides to hike back towards the main road and look for help, the jealous guy throws a bottle of water at the girl’s feet, spilling it out into the arid desert. Furthermore, Hopkins’ script finds the kids literally outdoing each other with terminally stupid behavior. One girl claims she saw a shack a few miles back, only to traipse off in a completely different direction from which they traveled, while her angry lover, thirsty after wasting an entire bottle of water in said hissy fit, pisses in a bottle and tries drinking it, despite being out in the sun for a few hours tops.
It doesn’t take long to reveal that there’s something supernatural about the titular road train, only the movie decides to play its cards close to the vest. Normally, cinematic ambiguity is better than over explaining everything, but the problem with Road Kill’s lack of explanation is that it seems to use its otherworldly aspects as a crutch for terrible writing. We’re never told why the hiking girl is cognizant of a shack that she never actually passed, for example, and I’m unwilling to buy into the explanation that she was ‘willed’ to find it by the unseen forces at play. Nor are we told why the shack is inexplicably stacked with cans of blood that this bimbo becomes addicted to slurping. There’s no established framework to hold the story’s glue together and, when coupled with insufferable characters, it culminates in a baffling and annoying experience.
Dean Francis is unable to cover the script’s frequent inadequacies with his direction, either. He stages some effective car crashes but fails in mounting the proceedings with any lasting dread. His cast tries hard, but they’re diminished through a story in which they never feel like real people – only unappealing genre clichés. Francis’ actresses (Sophie Lowe and Georgina Haig) muster some sympathy with convincing reactions to the increasingly stupid happenings, but it’s too little, too late.
There’s something of a nifty idea floating around Road Kill, but it was never developed beyond the potential germ. The concept of a devious truck powered by human bodies echoes the earliest works of David Cronenberg, with bleeding wires serving as veins, and pulsating walls suggesting a heartbeat somewhere within the metallic monster. The inclusion of a three-headed dog raises eyebrows as well, but it goes thoroughly unexplored just like everything else.
Beyond some surface positives (decent acting, effective car accidents), there’s just not a heck of a lot to enjoy here. It’s not scary and its attempts at psychological horror fall entirely flat. But you really can’t holster any one aspect of Road Kill with blame. Nothing about it plays, and it it’s hard to imagine being anything other than annoyed while slogging through these dire proceedings.
1/2 out of 5