We’ve all seen variations on the “killer on wheels” scenario. From Spielberg’s flawless “Duel” to “The Hearse” and, most recently, the criminally underrated “Joy Ride”, madmen (or supernatural forces) stalking their prey from behind the wheel of a rolling dynamo of death have been a fixture of horror/thriller cinema for quite some time. The most effective examples of these films employ what is, in my opinion, the most ferocious and fearsome vehicle on the road; the truck – more specifically, the 18 wheeled behemoths which dominate the highways, leaving comparatively tiny cars shaking in their wake. The Aussie import, Road Kill (aka; Road Train), employs an even more imposing version of said vehicle in a film that puts a deliciously dark new spin on the vehicular assault genre.
Four friends embark on an outback adventure, traveling through the barren stretches of central Australia en route to “the middle of nowhere”, just how best mates, Marcus (Xavier Samuel) and Craig (Bob Morley) like it. The trip hasn’t been fun for everyone, however, as Marcus’ girlfriend, Liz (Georgina Haig), is still in the doghouse with Marcus due to the recent revelation that she slept with Craig – something Marcus has already forgiven his friend for, but won’t extend Liz the same courtesy. Matters are made worse by the fact that Craig seems to really love his new girlfriend, Nina (Sophie Lowe), and the new couple’s mutual infatuation serves to make Marcus and Liz’s strained relationship that much more obvious.
Whilst moving on to their next remote destination, Craig spies a “road train” ( a mammoth 18 wheeler hauling two huge trailers) coming up behind them. Seeing as how Nina never gets out of the city, she’s never had the pleasure of “being overtaken” by a road train, so Craig slows their jeep down, expecting the truck to pass them with the requisite amount of sensory overload one would expect from several tons of diesel fueled metal whipping past you at 100 miles per hour. Instead, however, the truck rams into the back of their jeep, nudging them forward, before gliding into the next lane and driving past. Craig is furious, and, egged on by Liz, chases after the truck despite Marcus’ and Nina’s protests, and, as result, they are driven off the road, totaling their vehicle, with Craig breaking his arm in the process.
When they emerge from the wreckage, they see that the road train has stopped a mile up the highway, so the young travelers decide to investigate. When they find the vehicle abandoned, Marcus suggests they take the truck and drive to the nearest town, but, just as he gets the rig moving, a crazed man runs out of the bush, firing a pistol into the air. Marcus assumes it’s the rig’s driver and figures it serves him right that they abandon him out here, confident that it’ll all get sorted by the police once they get to town. As the quartet drive on, however, they soon realize that there’s more to the truck than meets the eye, and, as Craig forms a unique bond with the vehicle, the others must fight for their lives lest they be consumed by the same madness that's overtaken Craig…or worse.
I really thought I had Road Kill figured out early on, but the smart script by Clive Hopkins kept surprising me with twists and revelations that culminated in one of those “oh shit” moments so rare in today’s horror cinema. The film’s budgetary restraints are fairly well hidden behind very solid performances from its four leads, and director Dean Francis’ eye for elegant scenery (although I would reckon even a wedding video would be a visual feat were it shot in the outback). It’s not a perfect film – there’s a lot of incongruous dialogue and infuriatingly daft decisions on the part of the characters - but Road Kill (damn I hate that U.S. friendly title) is fresh and original enough to deserve a watch.
As of this writing, Road Kill will be debuting in the U.S. as part of Fangoria’s FrighFest collection, and released through Lightning Media. The screener copy reviewed here was neither a final transfer nor did it feature anything by way of extras, but more details will emerge as we draw closer to 8/6/10, the date upon which the titles hit Blockbuster Video for an exclusive 45 day run before retail release. Readers can head over to FangoriaFrightFest.com for more info and trailers for each of the eight films in this year’s series.