Certificate: Unrated
Running time: 85 mins
Director: Christopher R. Witherspoon
Starring: Rick Crawford, Christopher R. Witherspoon, Audrey Walker
Genre: Horror, Action
Country: USA

Dennis Twist’s life is about to be thrown into extreme and unexpected danger when he is targeted by an enraged biker.  With each step taken in an effort to lose the anonymous menace comes an escalation that will plunge Dennis’ world into the blind rage of a maniac.

Road rage can be a truly inspiring force in the right hands, director Steven Spielberg proved this long before we had a term defined for it with Duel and an ignorant driver on Mulholland lead auteur David Lynch to sit down and pen Lost Highway rather than follow his primal instincts.  In Christopher R. Witherspoon’s 2010 independent horror Rage the topic is mixed with the theatrically of the traditional slasher horror.  The hybrid marriage of these two very distinct and different sub genres of horror should be problematic…should be.  One is grounded in the reality of the every day, a representation of the audiences actual world, the other is often hyper-realistic with heavy lending towards not only the theatrical but the supernatural.  Witherspoon’s elimination of the third and the scaling back on the second of the conventions in the slasher horror has allowed for a successful and extremely taut narrative.  The story does have its references to Duel and Witherspoon, to his credit, does not attempt to hide this, even making reference to the film but personally it felt like it had more in common with Hitchcock than it did with Spielberg.  When I say Hitchcock I don’t mean narratively, this is not North by Northwest and our hero hasn’t haplessly ended up in this deadly game.  On the contrary he is here of his own doing but it’s that moral core which is interesting and very reminiscence of the core of all Hitchcock narratives.  His films had a code of conduct, a code which when breached brought about great pain on the individual, even the film’s protagonists were not safe from the karmic world of the Hitchcock code of conduct as Janet Leigh discovered in Psycho.  It’s this notion that is truly interesting about Rage and it’s one that’s reinforced when Dennis’ car is attacked, a car purchased for him by the person whom he has wronged.

Witherspoon, as director, has set himself a real task in this film.  With the vast majority of the action in Rage taking place in confined spaces, a car, a public bathroom, houses, there’s always the problem that the film might lose any energy that the narrative has built up but his use of camera is masterful and it’s marriage with the films editing and score is one that creates great tension in stillness.  This is down to the quality of the writing and the films editing, like his cinematic mentors, Witherspoon is an extremely good editor and stitches the audiences into fabric of the film wonderfully.  In particular during the films chase sequences which are shot and compiled together with an astonishing level of sophistication, clarity and high energy that prove to be sufficient pay off for the moments of tension that have been laid out prior to them.

The tension contained is also thanks to, in no small part, the performances in the film.  Rick Crawford (as Dennis) spends a great deal of the film alone having nothing to interact with other than his car or the premise of a mysterious biker who’s coming after him and it’s amazing how much he can actually do with it.  Any performer will be able to verify how difficult it is to carry a narrative when you’re secluded from the safety net that is human interaction.  Crawford gives an incredibly believable and restraint performance in what’s truly a thankless task as largely these pseudo one man show roles are only really noticed when they go horribly wrong.  The writer, director, editor, producer also manages to squeeze in a supporting role as ‘The Biker’.  The Biker is an interesting character in the film as in order to be taken seriously by the audience he must perform with a level of theatricality and humour, both of which Witherspoon showcases.  He’s also an incomplete character as we know nothing about him and doesn’t even have a face meaning his gesturality on screen requires him to be a lot more expressive.  It’s a rather ingenious premise as the blank canvas that is the bikers visor allows the audiences to project their fears and phobias on to the character making him unique to the individual and ultimately a lot more terrifying.  It’s the undefined faces of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees wrapped in black leather and raging at one hundred miles per hour and is extremely effective.

The film is not without a sense of humour, a vital component to any horror that’s an honest contender for audience’s affections.  The two bathroom scenes are played straight but have little glimpses of dark humour that will make you laugh, one is childish and a bit of a rascal and the other spits through broken teeth but both are very funny and hit the right notes.  They are also going to remain unspoilt so there'll be no more discussing...

There are a handful of set pieces that are managed extremely well by Witherspoon and highlight the level of proficiency and skill that he has within himself.  The first is the home invasion and assault, which is an extremely well balanced sequence that shows you enough for it to be tense and disturbing but skilfully side steps the gratuity that’s ever present and possible in scenes like this.  The second is, probably the showiest, enjoyable and absolutely necessary for the road rage / slasher hybrid horror includes a chainsaw and some carefully staged shots of prosthetics.  The only issue with this sequence is that it was, perhaps too reserved, and probably should have been more confident in being flashy and spend a little bit of that gratuity that was rightfully saved moments prior.

Rage is a taut and tense catch and release horror that’ll probably leave you a little bit more courteous the next time you pull up to a Walmart, a truly atmospheric white knuckle ride.

Information, updates and more are available the films website [here].


Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I'll have to check this out, it looks pretty sweet. As an aside, one of my all time favorite scenes from a Lynch film was the one in Lost Highway where someone cuts off Robert Loggia, and he chases the guy down and beats him up, yelling at him "are you going to go home and read the manual?"

John Baxter said...

I love Lost Highway. That was the first scene that inspired Lynch cos that's what he wanted to do when he got cut off.

I spent a full day with him in 2007, was probably the best day ever.

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