Last night, I flipped the channel to the weirdest “modern” (1996) movie I’ve seen since Terry Southern retired and paid the ferryman. It only got one star from the built-in TiVo and cable system blurb artists, but I think that’s because they didn’t “get” it or didn’t like the concept. It was actually a twisted retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood,” but only the beginning and ending were LRRH so much. I don’t know if I can even describe it, but any film in which Kiefer Sutherland begins to look and perform like his famous dad (and in which Reese Witherspoon gets to start out overacting, but then manages to make me believe about halfway through)–AND in which Brooke Shields protects her serial-killer hubby, then realizes he was a kiddie porn artist and kills herself–is unusual. It’s a black comedy like “Dr. Strangelove” in some sense.
_FREEWAY_ was actually made for theatrical release. It’s a dark, Tarantino-esque and scathing satire/parody on one hand, slamming the media culture we live in and making fun of society’s fascination with serial killers, out-of-control types, and outright psychopaths. But it also shows how an innocent can be caught up in a web that changes and shapes her. Reese’s character goes from a girl who defends herself from the serial killer to someone who attacks a guard and has no remorse. I couldn’t believe the scriptwriter got away with leaving in the most telling part of the scene in which she (spoiler alert) shoots the serial killer–before she pulls the trigger, she exacts the confession that he accepts Jesus as his lord and Savior (so he’ll be redeemed and can go to Heaven) and then she prays for forgiveness. Usually, movies don’t put in things like that, in my experience.
But this one lets you know up front that you’d better put on your suspenders of disbelief and expect them to be stretched to the breaking point, kind of the same way with Seven, Kalifornia, Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers, and parts of Beetlejuice. (And it reminds me of Peckinpah in the degree of violence shown. Or Polanski in his “Macbeth” period.) It’s surreal while being hyper-real. It touches on trailer trash culture, the conflict between “white trash” and “Yuppies,” explores whether anyone would be that upset if a serial killer confined himself to hookers, and so forth. But then again, it doesn’t. I might be reading a lot into it, but it says something that my husband sat there and watched the whole thing with me, while goggling and staring slackly at the screen. He also “got” it. It really belongs at an indie film fest or something. It was artsy in that trashy way. Disturbing, gritty, macabre, and just plain freaky. But it really is a work of art, if you can see it in the right light.
If you think you can deal with the paradigm bending, watch it when it comes back on cable or pluck the DVD out of the bargain bin at WallyWorld. (But don’t let kids under eighteen watch; for one thing, the language and situations are aaack, but for another, the serial killer character survives all those shots [impossible and implausible and couldn’t really happen] but is hideously disabled and disfigured, and viewers have to cope with Kiefer Sutherland uglified–it’s like in that episode of Daria when the crazy angry teacher makes the football QB Kevin wear the fake wart and scars and such for a week to see how ugly people are treated differently, a little bit. But then they “rehab” him to the point that he can come after her, which is also implausible after a couple of point-blank shots to the head, et al. Some kids would get the idea you could survive that, and the truth is that lesser wounds leave people vegetables and dead, and they shouldn’t get any ideas. Really, it’s supposed to be a black comedy, and it *is*, so don’t let younger kids watch. It kind of kept me up for a few hours shaking off the effects, and I’m a tough ol’ cookie.)