Jarv’s Birthday Series: Freeway (1996)
1996. What a great year. I’d finished my A Levels and was just about to turn 18. I had a fantastic job, and was thoroughly enjoying being myself. Furthermore, the Summer of 1996 was one of the hottest on record in the UK- the days seemed to stretch forever in glorious summer sun. So, for a year that I really do think incredibly fondly of, it was a bit of a stomp in the bollocks to see Carpool come out of the hat. Fucking hell, I’m not pissing away a review on one of the greatest years of my life on that fucking heap. Luckily Droid came to the rescue and discovered that Freeway, a gleefully twisted take on Little Red Riding Hood, was released on 25th August in America. Phew, that was a lucky escape.
Freeway is a strange little film. It’s one of only 4 directed by Matthew Bright (one of the others is the sequel, which gives the same treatment to Hansel and Gretel), and stars Keifer Sutherland, Future Oscar Winner Reese Witherspoon, and features Brittany Murphy in a small role. Red (real name Vanessa Lutz, played by Witherspoon) is trailer trash vermin. Her mother is a crack whore and she’s being sexually abused by her stepfather. Eventually the cops step in, and Red remembers that she’s got a grandma that she can visit with. The rest of the film is her journey to Grandma’s house (she sets out with a red hoodie on carrying a pink basket) and run in with Bob Wolverton (Keifer Sutherland), a degenerate necrophile serial killer. Bob tries to do his thing with her, and her response is the highly understandable one of shooting him repeatedly in the head.
Two cops (Dan Hedaya and Wolfgang Bodison) arrest her for attempted murder (inspired in no little way by Brooke Shields hysterical wife). Red is locked away and due to stand trial as an adult, before she escapes, makes her way to Grandma’s and deals with the big bad wolf once and for all.
This is a modern urban updating of Little Red Riding Hood, and as such the places that Red journeys through clearly represent the dark forest and the rest of it. The Big Bad Wolf is a degenerate Serial Killer, which is no great leap, and the cops represent the woodcutter. It’s clearly thought out properly, and despite an episodic nature works effectively enough. Bright wrote the script, and it’s stuffed full of classic lines (most of which are delivered by Witherspoon) including the frankly hilarious “I get claustrophobic when I have a stranger’s dick in mouth”. The early scenes with Witherspoon and Sutherland are actually creepy, and his disgusting perverted attempt to get inside her mind is a well written sequence.
This comes down to the performances. Sutherland is on fine form here, and his Dr. Wolverton is a disgusting pervert. His monologue to Vanessa about her being part of “human trash” is spat out with real hatred, and although he does spend the rest of the film in bizarre makeup, he’s still playing the part with some aplomb. I don’t like Witherspoon, as a rule, finding her shrill and annoying, but she’s good here. It does help that she’s got the majority of the great lines in the film, but her Vanessa is borderline unhinged with severe anger management issues, and it’s surprising that a little thing like Witherspoon manages to put the capacity for random and terrifying violence across so well.
This isn’t a perfect film, and I think I know why. Little Red Riding Hood is essentially a very simple story: little girl goes to Grandma’s house, the Wolf has eaten/ is Grandma, Red realises too late, Wolf gets head cut off. There isn’t actually enough plot to it to expand to feature length. As a result of this Bright has severe second act problems, and there is far too much time spent in the Juvenile facility. It becomes tiresome, and it is doubly irritating when the trial sequence is repeated as the point has already been made in the first showing. Furthermore, and I don’t mean to sound priggish here, but Red isn’t an endearing central character. She’s actually highly unlikable, and this is entirely down to the way the character is drawn. Bright worked so hard to make her a trick-baby (although she denies this), that he over-exaggerated all her negative character traits, and possible psychosis. I’m not saying that she deserves to be killed and then have her corpse raped (which is Wolverton’s plan), but there isn’t anything in the way of balance. You don’t root for her, because she’s a clearly psychotic nut-job and scenes such as her laughing in Bob’s deformed face leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Nevertheless, this is an experimental film and a well thought out curio. It’s interestingly put together and the flaws don’t sink the film entirely. It’s a shame, actually, because with a couple of minor tweaks it could have been dramatically better- just the odd scene of Witherspoon standing up for someone else, or toning her down a touch would have improved the film exponentially.
Overall, this is a brave and original film that isn’t fully successful. When it does work, it’s gripping and genuinely creepy. However, the second act does indeed drag, and the overall tone of the film occasionally borders on the unpleasant. I do recommend it, because it is, at the very least, interesting and compelling, but I’m not in any rush to see it again. I’m giving Freeway two and a half slutty Red Riding Hoods out of four and I can’t say that I regret coming back to this one.
Next up is an early Del Toro film: Mimic crawls out of the sewer to put unconvincing movie scientists, autistic kids and humanity itself in danger.
The full list in this series:
- 1978 – The Driver (3 out of 4)
- 1979 – Life of Brian (4 out of 4)
- 1980 –Xanadu (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London (4 out of 4)
- 1982 – Class of 1984 (3 out of 4)
- 1983 – Fire and Ice (1 out of 4)
- 1984 – Cal (1/2 out of 4)
- 1985 – Teen Wolf (3 out of 4)
- 1986 –Reform School Girls (2.5 out of 4)
- 1987 – Dirty Dancing (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1988 – Married to the Mob (1 out of 4)
- 1989 – Millennium (1 out of 4)
- 1990 – Darkman (3 out of 4)
- 1991 – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (2 out of 4)
- 1992 – Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1993 – Hard Target (3 out of 4)
- 1994 – Natural Born Killers (1 out of 4)
- 1995 – Desperado (3 out of 4)
- 1996 – Freeway (2.5 out of 4)
- 1997 – Mimic
- 1998 – Blade
- 1999 – Teaching Mrs. Tingle
- 2000 – Bring it On
- 2001 – Heartbreakers
- 2002 – Simone
- 2003 – My Boss’s Daughter
- 2004 – Exorcist: The beginning
- 2005 – The Cave
- 2006 – Invincible
- 2007 – War
- 2008 – Death Race
- 2009 – Der Baader Meinhof Komplex
- 2010 – Piranha 3D
- 2011 – Conan the Barbarian