Joy Ride (2001)
Joy Ride (2001)
Starring Steve Zahn, Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski. Directed by John Dahl.
Brothers Fuller (Steve Zahn) and Lewis (the late Paul Walker) accompanied by Venna (Leelee Sobieski) are making their way home on a road-trip. When a childish but harmless prank apparently leads to murder, the three find themselves the prey and in a cat and mouse chase across the wilds of the United States.
Before JJ Abrams had reached such dizzying heights and become a household name for the Star Trek reboot, he was busy writing and producing movies such as this. ‘Joy Ride’ (known as ‘Roadkill’ in the United Kingdom) was a mild box office success upon its release but faded into relative obscurity soon after, only to be talked about when someone finds a copy in a supermarket bargain bin and comments that it actually isn’t that bad.
There is no question that this film was heavily influenced by Steven Spielberg’s early effort ‘Duel’ (1971). Spielberg’s movie has become the standard in the niche psycho-trucker-stalks-people genre. However, there are enough differences for this to stand on its own merits and not only be considered a cheap knock-off; a disservice to ‘Joy Ride’ if ever there was one.
‘Joy Ride’ is a thrilling little film. You can argue the characters are uninteresting, underdeveloped and in the case of Leelee Sobieski underused to such an extent that you could be forgiven for thinking that she was cast due to her passing resemblance with adult actress Avy Scott. Yet most of these flaws can be overlooked due to the accomplishments in ‘Joy Ride’s’ overall narrative. We have in our midst a movie that is simultaneously slow-burner and a fast-paced horror thriller that shows a welcome awareness of how to build tension without ever becoming dull.
The antagonist, Rusty Nail (Ted Levine), is an excellent villain of the piece, almost akin to an unseen John Ryder (‘The Hitcher’). He is a mysterious figure, who taunts and goads the hapless teenagers with a subtle malevolence in his voice, spouting cryptic messages, and in the tradition of horror villains, possessing an almost supernatural quality that leaves the audience guessing.
Of course, there are flaws and perhaps ‘Joy Ride’ is unlikely to top anyone’s favourites list, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a remarkable, exciting road-horror movie that somehow fell into relative obscurity despite the many positive things it has going for it. A mixture of good acting (even from Sobieski, when she is given a chance) and an explicit knowledge of how to build dramatic tension elevates this above many of its contemporaries and probably makes ‘Joy Ride’ the best road-trip-based horror movie since ‘The Hitcher’ (1986).