director : John Dahl
script : Clay Tarver, JJ Abrams
producers include : Abrams
cinematography : Jeffrey Jur
editing : Eric L Beason, Scott Chestnut, Todd E Miller, Glen Scantlebury
music : Marco Beltrami
lead actors : Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski
Citizens’ Band radio is the suitably old-school hook for a movie that’s also something of a blast from the past, harking back to killer-on-the-highway B-movies from the 80s (The Hitcher), the 70s (Duel) and beyond. “It’s like a prehistoric internet or something,” quips genial hothead Fuller Thomas (Zahn), trying to persuade his younger, more sensible brother Lewis (Walker) that the dusty device will spice up their cross-country drive home through the lonely highways of the mid-West.
But when Fuller goads Lewis into playing a childish prank on a trucker known as ‘Rusty Nail’, this turns out to be a Very Bad Move Indeed. Rusty Nail (an unseen, uncredited Kimbrough) turns out to be, quite literally, a psycho on wheels who’ll stop at nothing in his quest for revenge. When Lewis’s prospective girlfriend Venna (Sobieski) joins the trip, Roadkill boils down into a nicely claustrophobic three-hander with Zahn’s loose-wired comic energy justifying the price of admission on its own, as usual.
Dahl, meanwhile, shows the sure hand at the wheel that distinguished Last Seduction and Red Rock West, pulling off one terrific scene of atmospheric dread when the Thomases strain to hear what sounds like it might be a brutal murder going on in the next-door motel room. It’s a pity he didn’t contribute to the script, especially in the latter stages when Rusty Nail’s antics take increasingly daft forms. But the most heinous crime is one of omission – this would have been an instant classic if only they’d rolled the credits to the accompaniment of Mark E Smith yelping “I’m Into CB!!!
16th October, 2001
(seen Oct-4-01, UGC Parrs Wood, Manchester)
by Neil Young
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