Directed by Mikael Salomon
When a Lifetime original movie appears on my to-do list, two thoughts go through my head: First, I assume that the movie got lost on its way to one of those other websites for pansies. After rechecking the shipping address, it dawns on me that I’m in store for either (i) a ghost movie where it turns out it was the grandmother’s spirit trying to warn the mother that her lack of interest in her daughter’s after school activities has led her down the dangerous road of teen sex or (ii) a rape/revenge film.
Oh goody, it’s rape/revenge, the only genre of film so awkward to watch they should all come with homemade labels that read “Sex Tape: Mom and Dad.”
Now I am not trying to say that rape/revenge movies cannot be good. What I am saying is that thank Christ Big Driver wasn’t shit. I feel like I can’t in good conscience criticize rape/revenge films out of the fear that I’m missing some emotionally significant language or characterization that is going to give someone the courage to trust again. I don’t even feel like I should have to clarify this, but I don’t find rape to be something I desire to watch. When a ghost throws a woman across a room and makes her spine explode out of her mouth, that’s great. When Freddy Krueger turns into a bed and eats a kid, spitting him out in a reverse blood waterfall, that makes me giggle with glee. When distraught victim #72 cuts off his left ball and chews it open to get at the key inside, I nod approvingly while giving a slight smile that lets the movie know I care, even if I don’t say it often.
The thing is, these things don’t actually happen in real life. Rape happens with shameful frequency. It is reported that as many as one in five women will experience some kind of sexual assault in their lives. That is roughly infinity% more than the amount of people that have been killed by ghosts, undead monsters, and the crazed civil engineers combined. I get that the rape isn’t supposed to be enjoyable to watch, but rather give justification for the revenge part of the movie. The problem with this is that once you make desire to kill a rapist the motivating factor, all emotion in the movie revolves around the rapist’s feelings, and I am not prepared to comment on the quality of that characterization.
That is why it is so awkward that the first 40 minutes of Big Driver are… done not well. This is an adapted Stephen King story, so naturally the story follows a successful (but not too successful) mystery novelist named Tess Thorne. On the way home from a speaking engagement at a library in a small town, the local librarian urges her to takes an alternate route home. The route will lead her over the hills and through the boonies, theoretically cutting hours off of her trip. On her way she runs over a nail and is picked up by a large man in a ratty truck named Lester. After riding with him for a while, she deduces that Lester might be the one responsible for her predicament, and he rapes her. Assuming she is dead, he dumps her in a storm drain. Tess wakes up, miles from civilization, and waffles over whether to report the crime or not. Fearing that she will be portrayed as asking for it, she decides to take matters into her own hands, load up her gun, and do some digging to find the rapist.
Now, up until the part where she goes on the hunt, the movie is really off. I hesitate to call it bad because the subject matter is so ghastly that it is brave that they even explore it. There is a scene in the convenience store Tess goes to after waking up in the storm drain, and the overt judging glances shot her way make for some compelling statements on America’s treatment of rape victims. However, the movie is all shot in that Lifetime original, just slightly over-saturated style. Similarly, the audio is poorly leveled, and while certain sound effects might come out clearly, spoken dialogue is often too whispered to understand. They never quite explain why she feels like she would be blamed for it, other than that she is a mystery writer who profits off of the macabre. The leaps of logic she takes to piece the whole story together are likewise hard to swallow, often making impossible connections for seemingly no reason that all serendipitously come together to form the picture of a rape/murder conspiracy.
At about the halfway mark, the movie gets good. Tess loads her revolver and sets off to kill the man responsible for her rape as well as his mother. At this point she has pieced together that the librarian who sent her on the road is the mother (leaps of logic, as I said) and that she must be feeding him rape victims out of motherly love to keep his evil hunger sated. This is also the point in the movie where she begins to go mad. There were hints at it before, but here’s the point in the movie it really comes into play.
Tess is accompanied by her navigational device, lovingly named Tom, who begins to develop a personality of his own. Listening to him incite murder in his drab, mechanical monotone is quite chilling and made me take notice of the film immediately. What’s really surprising is that Tom evolves past a manifestation of her subconscious, ultimately becoming concerned for her and saying, “I cannot live without you.” Taking on the role of simultaneous guardian and dependent is unique, even in the overdone “friend-in-my-head” department.
The other interesting character is Doreen, played by Olympia Dukakis. An old women and the protagonist of Tess’ books, she comes to represent a dark part of Tess’ personality. Prim, proper, and calculating, she offers Tess advice on how to get away with the murder. Similar to Tom, she is also motivated to make sure Tess does not get caught but mentions that it is because she finds prisons to be drab and detestable places. She is selfish and almost evil and becomes a physical embodiment of the darkness that has always been inside of her, now brought to surface. By the end of the movie, when Tess finishes her next novel, she turns around and hands the manuscript to Doreen, who now ominously is part of a knitting circle of four elderly women. Whether this means that Tess has fully descended into madness or come to peace with it is never explained entirely, but it is a remarkably strong and loaded scene.
The movie is best described as uneven. This isn’t to say there’s no way anyone could find something to take from the first half, but it is impossible to take something from it without having personal sentiments towards rape. There is nothing inherently compelling about the character’s actions or the way she is portrayed, and so the film entirely relies on your sympathies over her vicious attack to get you to care about the situation. The way she explains away her wounds to various people doesn’t give further insight into her character. Instead, it relies upon you caring that someone would have to do that. While I assume we all care about rape and think it is bad, it doesn’t specifically fit the movie or advance our understanding of it. It is clear that this was written as a girl power movie, heavily relying on the viewer caring about this as a women’s issue. I mean, the last line of the movie is actually “Way to go girl.”
If that is the kind of stuff that empowers you, by all means I am sure this movie is a 5/5 for you. From the standpoint of someone who cares about the film as a whole and not just the message being noble, the lack of personality in her reactions and shoddy camera/voice work bring it down too much to ignore.