On paper, Roadkill sounds like just another teen horror in the mould of I Know What You Did Last Summer: a college student and his wayward elder brother are on their way to pick up a girl before returning home for the holidays. Bored on the journey, they use a CB radio to play a prank on a trucker with the handle Rusty Nail. Unfortunately, Rusty Nail doesn't take kindly to being the brunt of the joke and proceeds to seek his revenge on his tormentors.
Thankfully, writers JJ Abrams and Clay Tarver had no intention of producing another film to add to the long list of lacklustre slashers and Rusty Nail's revenge takes the form of a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the brothers rather than the usual series of slayings of American teens. This approach allows not only greater character development but also the possibility of generating some true suspense, rather than the predictable regularity of a death scene every five minutes that seems to be the requirement for the average modern American horror film. Not that the script is without flaws, there are plot holes and much is left unexplained, but enough pace and suspense is maintained that the majority of the audience will probably find that they don't notice or don't care.
Director John Dahl was clearly in tune with the writer's intentions, and his experience in contemporary film noire has enabled him to produce a film with a much grittier feel and greater character depth than we've become used to from recent Hollywood efforts in the genre.
The character depth is supplied not only by the script, but also by the performances from the leads, Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski, who all turn in performances well above the genre standard. Zahn in particular is notable for providing the film with an appropriate dash of humour.
Also worth mentioning is the cinematography of Jeffrey Jur, not only for effectively capturing the barren wide open spaces of Nevada but also for use of neon lighting to produce some moody, primary colour-drenched imagery.
For a more in-depth look at the film, read Alexander Larman's theatrical review.
Roadkill is presented in an anamorphic transfer matching the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and as you would expect from a major studio release of a recent western film, there is little to complain about in terms of picture quality. Colours are rich and the level of detail is good, if unexceptional. Contrast, black levels and shadow detail are also all fine. There are a few occasional brief print flecks, and film grain is present in some of the night scenes, but the later is probably due to the original film stock used. Some of the scenes are lit with red neon, and this does produce the occasional blooming, although given the extreme nature of the lighting this was probably unavoidable. There are no noticeable digital compression artefacts.
Fox have provided an excellent DD5.1 track that has as much surround action as you would expect from a violent road movie, with good use of the rears for ambient sound and spot effects. The LFE gets a good work out too - one almighty crash in particular will have your neighbours wondering if your television has just blow up.
Fox have supplied no less than three separate feature-length commentaries, the first of which features director John Dahl. Dahl is clearly familiar with commentaries, as he begins by declaring that he regards most of them to be drivel and proceeds to joke about commentary tracks that just describe the onscreen events. As well as talking about the casting, production design, choice of locations and the different versions of the film, Dahl talks about his contempt for post-Halloween slasher movies and his preference for more traditional-style horror films. His delivery may be dry, but this commentary is the most informative of the three.
Writers JJ Abrams and Clay Tarver recorded their commentary track together, which allows for banter between the pair. They are remarkably honest about the flaws and plot holes in the script and highly complimentary towards the director and cast whose abilities they acknowledge help the film to overcome the weaknesses in the plot.
Leelee Sobieski and Steve Zahn clearly recorded their contributions to the third commentary track separately and it takes the unusual format of featuring Leelee Sobieski for the first few minutes before switching to Steve Zahn and then back again to Leelee Sobieski for the remainder of the film. Leelee Sobieski's contribution is the more focused and is filled with on-set anecdotes. Steve Zahn takes a much more humorous and irreverent approach, declaring that the director and various members of the crew 'kicked butt' and even making his own sound effects to accompany some of the scenes. He eventually runs out of steam, and it is at this point that the commentary switches back to Leelee Sobieski.
There are no less than four alternate endings supplied. The first, the original ending from the first shoot, is nearly half an hour in length and takes the film in an entirely different direction. The other three alternative endings are much shorter and show footage filmed to enable the makers to trial a variety of different endings to see which played best. One of these includes images from the original storyboards to substitute for shots that were never filmed. A short deleted scene entitled Fuller kisses Venna is also included. All of this footage is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio but with a non-anamorphic transfer of much lower quality than the main feature. The alternate endings are interesting, but the final ending used is undoubtedly the best of the bunch.
This extra footage is supplied with its own commentary tracks, the first from John Dahl. Dahl had obviously run out of things to say by the time he came to the alternate footage, but he talks a little about why he wasn't happy with the discarded endings. Writers JJ Abrams and Clay Tarver seem philosophical in their commentary track, accepting that what works on paper doesn't always work on film, and that the final ending used was indeed the best.
The four-minute promotional featurette includes a small amount of behind the scenes footage and sound bites from the cast and director, but is otherwise as vacuous as this kind of promotional material usually is.
The option More Than One Rusty Nail turns out to be a scene from the film with three different audio tracks enabling us to hear three different actors supplying the voice for Rusty Nail, and it's clear from comparing the three that the right choice was made in the form of Ted Levine, who manages to make the attempts by Eric Roberts and Stephen Shellen sound about as scary as the Teletubbies.
Selecting the option More Than One Version gives the opportunity to watch the film with the deleted scene and the original ending incorporated. This is a nice feature, but would have worked better if the extra footage had been of the same quality, or at least the same anamorphic format, as the main feature.
The obligatory theatrical trailer is also included and as usual is best left until after you've watched the film itself.
Fox have certainly provided a wealth of extras for Roadkill, the only major omission being a behind-the-scenes documentary. Quantity does not always guarantee quality, and it's unlikely anybody will want to view the supplied extras more than once.
For once, the extras match those supplied on the Region 1 release, which has been reviewed by Tiffany Bradford under the film's US title, Joy Ride.
It's refreshing to see a modern horror film that relies on suspense and genuine filmmaking talent to produce its thrills rather than the lazy approach of fast cutting, over-the-top action and an overly loud soundtrack. Thanks to the skill of director John Dahl and the young cast, the film maintains enough suspense and momentum to enable us to overlook the weaknesses of the plot. The DVD release features good quality audio and video alongside an abundance of extras.