Friday 3 June 2011

Roadkill (2011)

"If you can smell something nasty, it's probably ROADKILL"

That's what the tagline should have been for this stinker.  Actually, I say that slightly tongue-in-cheek because it's unpretentious and director Johannes Roberts is competent enough to make sure it meets most of its (admittedly limited) ambitions.  There are pretty girls, some good-looking guys, sadistic villains, a nasty monster and the occasional splash of gore. So it's kind of fun in an empty-headed way.  The plot, such as it is, concerns an RV full of American students who while on a roadtrip through Ireland knock down and kill an old gypsy lady, who curses them with her dying breath.  As any Birmingham City fan will tell you these curses are not to be sniffed at and pretty soon they find themselves being stalked by a vicious flying monster.

The kids are okay, struggling with dialogue like "Is that a house?" while looking at a house in broad daylight.  For marketing reasons they play Americans but as far as I know they're all British.  The accents aren't bad but you just have the is nagging feeling all the way through that something isn't quite right.  Quite who persuaded Stephen Rea to appear in it is anyone's guess but I would suggest it's the cruddiest film he's made to date.  Which leads me to the monster - it's not badly designed but by the standards of the day it's executed poorly.  I know it's only a TV movie but even so ...  

It would be tempting to leave it there but if you scratch a little deeper there are some pretty murky assumptions underpinning the view of the world that it presents.  All the girls have big tits, tiny waists and big arses; they all wear sexy clothing.  All the Irish people they meet are malevolent degenerates.  The country itself is portrayed as just a great big one-horse town with limited facilities, no public services and, worst of all, poor mobile phone coverage.  It makes jokes out of race, sex, and child abuse.  There's one non-shite character and, as is usually the case in movies, he gets offed early on.

Now, you might say I'm taking a po-faced attitude to what is clearly intended to be a bit of trashy fun.  But there are numerous examples of fun genre movies that do quite sophisticated things with racial and gender politics, or that are in bad taste without being offensive.  In short there are films that can be basic and entertaining without being ignorant.  Sadly, most filmmakers are all too ready to deliver a film that they think hits all the right spots, rather than try something a little bit different, because they don't think they'll work otherwise.

In the 50s, directors like Sam Fuller and Don Siegel made films that on the surface appeared to pander to the worst excesses of American paranoia, all about invasions and Commies and pinko liberals.  But some critics have argued that if you look closely enough, Fuller and Siegel left little cracks and fissures in their work which, if you explored them, revealed a more ambiguous layered meaning that was asking pointed questions about America and its view of the world.

So, while accepting that Fuller and Siegel were great directors and that it's unreasonable to expect everyone to achieve those standards, what I look for - particularly in genre movies, because it's easier to get away with - is some evidence that while the requisite thrills and spills are being delivered, the director is leaving signs which point you towards a less one-dimensional reading.

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