‘Roadkill’ Review: Modern Exploitation With Mixed Messages


I am a fan of Danielle Harris. She’s horror royalty, after all. So, when I learned that she appears in Warren Fast’s Roadkill, I had to give the film a look. The trailer gives off major exploitation vibes, which further piqued my interest. After sitting through the film, I remain impressed by the grindhouse energy but I am a bit bummed by some of the depictions of sexual abuse survivors. However unintentional that may be, I feel like that aspect needs some tweaks. With that said, the film doesn’t get everything wrong. 

Roadkill follows a woman known as The Driver (Caitlin Carmichael) traveling through a rural area. Along the way, she stops to pick up a drifter (Ryan Knudson). As fate would have it, the duo is traveling the same expanse of road known to be stalked by a menacing presence called the Highway Hunter. Naturally, the travelers’ paths somehow intertwine with the homicidal killer, and much blood is spilled. 

My first qualm is that I was bamboozled by the promise of Danielle Harris. She’s absent from most of the film. The iconic actress only stops in for a gloried cameo. So, that really disappointed me. With that said, some Danielle Harris is better than no Danielle Harris. 

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Woes about the gross under-utilization of the Halloween Queen aside, what struck me most about this story is that I’m not sure the onscreen representation of a young woman who has endured sexual abuse is done entirely tactfully. For instance, The Driver has an oral fixation and is frequently seen enjoying a lollipop. She also seems to lead with her sexuality or by playing the helpless young woman when attempting to disarm men. It seems like it would have been more respectful to show The Driver outwitting her male counterparts and doing so without having to bat her eyelashes or act like she’s a silly goose that needs a big, strong, smart man’s help. 

The overt way in which she utilizes her sexuality and dumbs down her intelligence seems somewhat unnecessary. There are other ways she could approach situations of this ilk. So, for her to consistently pick degrading tactics over more constructive ways to outsmart the men she encounters feels like a misstep. If these tactics were used sparingly and she was depicted as a multi-faceted character, it may have played as less reductive. But when we see so much of that, it feels like she’s being conveyed as a sex object. Yes, it’s on her terms. And yes, it’s for an objective. But I can’t help but think that makes The Driver something of a one-note character. I’d have loved to have seen her implement different approaches to getting the upper hand. 

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I initially thought this film was intended to be an empowering tale of surviving abuse and overcoming that trauma. And I think that may be the intent. But the deeper I got into the picture, the less I felt that way. I think that Warren Fast probably set out to recreate the type of femme fatale we might have seen during the ‘70s exploitation boom. And I could feel elements of that in The Driver. But it would have been nice to see the archetypal character updated with a more dynamic representation of womanhood. 

The other qualm I have is that The Driver goes too far in her quest to right the many ways in which she was wronged. She isn’t content to just go after those that hurt her. She begins to see innocents as collateral damage. If Roadkill is intended to empower survivors, painting The Driver as having sociopathic tendencies seems like the wrong way to do that, especially because her traumatic past is what’s seemingly motivating her. So, the implication almost appears to be that the abuse she endured made her a monster with no empathy. I’m not sure that’s the best lens through which to portray a survivor. I think her retaliation should be against those who hurt people, not against absolutely anyone who stands in the way of her mission. In hurting the innocent, she is effectively perpetuating the cycle of abuse. 

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Even if the film isn’t specifically intended to be a story about a victim reclaiming her identity, the crux of the picture revolves around a survivor of early childhood sexual abuse setting out to confront those who victimized her. So, I cannot help but think humanizing the character more would have been a better avenue. The way she is portrayed in the film feels just a little tone-deaf to me.   

Flaws aside, there are pieces of a good movie in there. Especially if you don’t go too deep into subtext and merely take the film at face value. That may be what the filmmakers intended. But even still, telling the stories of survivors is heavy stuff. So, a creator should probably consider the different ways in which someone may interpret the narrative. And I can think of a couple of aspects to Roadkill that are less-than-ideal, however unintentional they may be. 

If you are game to check Roadkill out, you can find it playing theatrically in NY, LA, Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis on January 5. The flick will also bow on digital the same day. 

  • ‘Roadkill’


‘Roadkill’ serves up the essence of the exploitation era but stumbles in its depiction of sexual abuse survivors.

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