Directed by Johannes Roberts
Written by Rick Suvalle
Even the most casual genre viewer knows anytime a group of young people hit the byways for a road trip, it’s going to end badly. And if the trip happens to be on the rural roads of a foreign land, you might as well pack body bags along with the beer, condoms and pot.
While the premise of the road trip gone horribly wrong is indeed an overused genre trope, fans shouldn’t let that stop them from checking out the Syfy Original Movie Roadkill, which airs this Saturday, April 23, 2011.
Directed by Johannes Roberts and written by Rick Suvalle, this incarnation of the road trip to hell introduces us to five young Americans who decide to hit the back roads of Ireland for a scenic weekend. They haven’t seen one another in a while, one of their clan has relocated to Dublin for career purposes, and the group sees it as a chance to reconnect before the grind of adult life begins in earnest. It may also provide an opportunity for estranged lovers to reunite.
They hit the road in a rented RV and take in the picturesque Irish countryside as planned, but it’s not long before things take a dark turn when they cross paths with a community of backwoods gypsies. Cultures clash as they always do in these paradigms, and during a hasty getaway the group runs over an old woman with their RV. When they try to help, she uses her last dying breath to place a curse on the shell-shocked clan, telling them the “Simuroc” will avenge her and kill them one by one.
Rather than suffer the wrath of the locals who will descend upon them long before authorities can arrive, the group opts to flee the scene, having no clue as to the cycle of events which has now been set in motion.
They soon find out the Simuroc is a giant bird of prey which will stop at nothing to complete its contracted mission of revenge, and it’s at this point the pic kicks into high gear as the RV speeds through the countryside with the Roc in hot pursuit.
True to formula, a series of events impedes the group’s escape, and just when the script appears to be entering all too familiar territory with a predetermined kill order, writer Rick Suvalle does a nice job of shifting character focus so we’re never entirely sure who’s going to be the next victim and, more importantly, who’s going to survive, if anyone.
Another nice change-up is, too often, the filmmakers of these Syfy Originals rely heavily on the monster of the week, which makes them one-note; thankfully that’s not the case here as Suvalle and Roberts take the pressure off their monster by wisely keeping the gypsies a part of the story dynamic. Rather than merely serving as a vehicle by which events are set into motion, the clan gives chase throughout the flick and, at times, is far more frightening than the Simuroc. This is due entirely to the stand-out performance of Ned (Sherlock Holmes) Dennehy as the leader of the gypsy clan. He’s genuinely menacing and almost single-handedly raises the level of the film. Stephen (Stuck) Rea is solid in the small role of a local policeman who knows all too well about the Simuroc and its exploits, and Kacey (Resident Evil: Afterlife) Barnfield shows strong acting muscle as “Kate”, one half of the estranged lovers. The rest of the cast is actually pretty good for a Syfy Original, but Dennehy is sure to leave the biggest impression.
Johannes Roberts handles directing duties effectively and does a lot to cover budget shortcomings. It’s hard to make a story which primarily takes place inside an RV visually interesting, and he compensates quite well by making the most of the optics when the plot ventures outside the vehicle. He and Suvalle also steer the pic much darker than the average Syfy feature, which is unusual for a cable network that tends to keep its genre fare campy and “horror lite”. It’s an appreciated shift in tone that sets Roadkill apart from other Syfy entries.
The creature effects are a mixed bag as they tend to be with these things. In this case, the effects bounce between bad CGI and looking like something created by Ray Harryhausen, which almost makes them endearing at times.
All in all Roadkill is a solid entry in the Syfy Original genre. While it suffers from some of the shortcomings we’re used to seeing with these films, there are enough pleasant surprises to keep it interesting. The filmmaking is strong overall, and it’s clear everyone involved was actually trying to make a good movie here. You never get the sense anyone involved simply showed up for a paycheck, and their dedication shows.
Roadkill is definitely a ride worth taking.
3 1/2 out of 5