Road Train
R2 - United Kingdom - Optimum Releasing
Review written by and copyright: Adrian Busby (30th September 2010).
The Film

Optimum Home Entertainment has released the film using its original title rather than Road Kill, which it was used for US and Canadian audiences.

Craig (Bob Morley), Nina (Sophie Lowe), Liz (Georgina Haig) and Marcus (Xavier Samuel) are four young friends on a road trip in the Australian outbreak. Their SUV is smashed off the highway by a Road Train – a term given to a truck with multiple trailers. With their vehicle wrecked and the Road Train stopped ahead, the friends go to seek help from the drivers. They discover an empty cabin with the keys still in the ignition and, scarred by the sounds of gunshots and a figure screaming at them from the bush, decide the take the vehicle for themselves. They plan to stop at the next town but never get there. Something makes them fall asleep and, when they wake, they discover they are off road in the middle of nowhere. They soon realise that the truck has driven itself and what lies inside the trailers proves more terrifying than anything they could imagine…

Having read that, you have the foreknowledge to watch, and possibly enjoy the film. Unfortunately, I was up for a grounded-in-reality Duel and so was disappointed by the convoluted plot which confuses reality with the supernatural but never makes any attempt to explain why it’s happening other than “it’s the truck”.

To be fair, the attractive, competent and, mostly, believable cast do a good job with the script they are given but I feel the problem IS the script. It’s written by Clive Hopkins and seems a little muddled. According to IMDb, this is his first feature length work, having only written a couple of short films and a couple of episodes of UK TV Series Bugs and The Bill. He doesn’t seem to know where he’s going with the story and it left me feeling unsure whether it was supposed to be a pure thriller akin to Duel (as it so promisingly starts off as) or a supernatural film like, well, um, Maximum Overdrive (as it so disappointingly finishes)!

Actually actress Sophie Lowe confirms in the Making Of that it’s a “unique…supernatural thriller” – as if to confirm that Mr Hopkins didn’t really know where to go so tried to take it both ways. There are similar titles out there, such as Jeepers Creepers and probably even it’s ‘namesake’ Road Kill (OK that’s the US name for Road Train but you get the idea!) that do a better job.

And I don’t usually pay too much attention to plot details but there are holes in abundance here. For example, Nina gathers foliage, prepares and lights a fire in the time it takes an airliner to fly overhead. I know she was a girl guide but that’s some achievement. The concept that the Road Train can’t get back to the road without reversing is, to even a casual viewer, clearly nonsense, as is proven much later in the film when the solution used was what I screamed at the TV from the start. And worst of all, would you really go for help to the driver of the vehicle which has just shunted your vehicle off the road?

Having said that, the direction by Dean Francis is largely good and consistent throughout. Some of the shots of the orange sand of the land against the pale blue sky are stunning. There aren’t any moments which felt wrong or badly framed except perhaps for the odd wolf references. I took these to represent hallucinations or some other mental image perceived by the character but again it wasn’t really explained.

Video

The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is very clean, clear and crisp. It certainly shows off the beautiful colours of the Australian outback. The only problem I found was a single occurrence of pixilation for a couple of frames at 20:31 which I assume is an encoding error as it seems unlikely to be a fault of the digital source material.

Audio

There is only a single soundtrack option of English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, but it is a good track and adequately presents the loud score and clear dialogue. Some of the early scenes involving the pursuit and gun shots would have benefited from a surround presentation but it certainly doesn’t diminish the film in any way.

Extras

The small selection of extras start with The Making Of Road Train featurette (13:21). This is your classic mix of talking heads, film clips and behind the scenes footage. I felt it was unfortunate that it includes Director Dean Francis stating “I think you’re gonna be on the edge of your seats the entire time” – how wrong he was! Having said that, it’s not a bad little piece, with at least a few insights into the making of the film.

Next up are five Deleted Scenes (3:13) which can be played individually or all together using a Play All option:

The first 3 scenes all occur before the group set off on the road. Scene 1 (0:15) is a single line of dialogue and Scene 2 (0:25) is a couple more lines. Scene 3 (0:49) shows Nina concerned by a snake, reassured by Marcus and comforted by Craig. I suspect these were trimmed for timing and to avoid revealing too much about the relationships between the characters.

Scene 4 (0:58) has Nina and Liz searching for keys while Craig spies on them – it’s unclear at what point in the film this scene would have occurred and so it’s difficult to know if it would have added to the final film had it been included.

The final scene (0:44) has Nina start to disconnect the trailers before realising that the cab won’t drive without them. This is something the character ought to have realised by now anyway and I suspect that’s why it was cut.

The final extra is a Trailer (2:06). It's a very loud, rapidly cut affair which plots the story far better than the film itself does. The film would have actually made more sense had I seen the trailer first!

Overall

Watched with the right expectation, it’s not a bad little film. Expect it to be the next Duel and you’ll be disappointed.

The Film: C+ Video: A- Audio: B+ Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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