Roadside is a Hitchcockian style suspense/thriller that was shot back in 2013 by Arkansas filmmaker Eric England (director of “Madison County” and “Contracted”). I have been following all his films and this one since that time and was pretty excited to see it. Roadside is about a couple Dan and Mindy Summers played by (Ace Marrero and Katie Stegeman) (Fun fact, both have worked with Eric on previous projects Madison County and Contracted respectively). Dan and Mindy are travelling to Dan’s sisters where his family is spending Christmas together, followed by a visit to Mindy’s side of the family. Both are a little on edge knowing Mindy doesn’t care much for Dans side of the family and to make matters worse the two are expecting a baby any day now, making things a little more hectic. Shortly into the journey they come across debris blocking the road. Upon closer look the couple quickly realise they are not alone, someone is in the woods with a rifle pointed at them. They will have to outwit their captor if they are to survive the night and make it home for Christmas.
It’s difficult when you wait such a long time to see something because you build it up in your mind and most of the time your expectations aren’t met and its unrealistic to think they will be I guess. When you have that long to sit on something and imagine it you can set yourself up for disappointment but Eric shows us again with Roadside why he is a filmmaker to keep a close eye on in the near future.
The very intimate screenplay and small cast make for a great building block to Roadside. Most of Hitchcock’s work was centered around simple plots and minor locations and characters that almost play out like a theatre production and this entry into the suspense/thriller genre is no different. Comparisons can be made between the opening establishing shots in Roadside and the introduction to “North By Northwest”. Personally I always thought that was one of Hitchcock’s by the books and rather dull films but I suppose it has a certain atmosphere about it that holds it in good stead. I absolutely love the Panic Room/Home Alone inspired score by Igor Nemirovsky which is used throughout the majority of the film. In fact there are a few really cool nod’s to Home Alone through dialogue. In one scene Mindy tries to recall if she left certain belongings at home or if she remembered to turn off all the electrical appliances etc, channeling Catherine O’Hara and John Heard for sure. It’s not a great stretch to say that Ace’s voice even sounds like John Heard’s in this (haha), I have no idea whether anyone else has spotted that or informed Eric but well… they have now and I loved it.
The audio is nice and smooth and clear, the shot choices are also very effective. Camera’s are carefully placed on the sides of door’s and windows along with some very solid panning. The use of unnerving sound effects and subtle musical notes help add to the suspense of the situation this couple find themselves in. It can be difficult to keep the audience engaged in something that is set primarily in one location with really only two characters, occasionally a third pops up but Roadside manages itself pretty well given the low-budget. From an acting standpoint I’m not sure Ace necessarily has what it takes to play that leading man. Granted, I have only seen him in Madison County (which he was still solid in), who knows what the future holds for him but hopefully good things. Katie is commendable, playing the all to familiar pregnant and moody emotional wife. She had a cool little part in Eric’s last film Contracted and I’m sure it won’t be the last time those two work together. There are a few less important characters early in the film that also do their bit.
It will probably surprise readers to hear me say that at just 82 minutes, including 12 minutes worth of really cool stylised credits, Roadside is quiet a slow-burn. That’s just a heads up for those who like their films at a fast pace, this isn’t. The technical aspects were all very solid with the exception of some of the cuts and edits feeling a little abrupt, one or two dialogue driven scenes that don’t really seem to escalate things and probably could have been cut. The most common cliché here is the familiar tropes in character background that go along with these types of films. Are the couple having marital problems?? Has infidelity driven them apart?? etc etc. I suppose you have to write some kind of base for your characters to ground them, it’s probably just because this isn’t the first suspense/thriller of this nature that it becomes that little bit more obvious and easy to fall into those specific trappings.
Our couple doesn’t always make the correct decisions which is somewhat realistic but a gunmen appearing to have no real motive would probably have a different mindset to what this one does. For example, Would he really let Dan and Mindy converse with each other that much? Sure, he keeps an eye on them but why take the chance that they could be planning an escape or trying to flag a warning. Make sure they know the rules right from word go. I thought the setup for the hidden gunman should have been written a lot better too. I don’t know if he has your regular action rifle or if it’s a sniper rifle?? But I would have liked to have seen a few more shots from the gunman’s POV, seldom do we see it and when we do it appears as though he is a reasonable distance up the treeline yet he can seem to converse with Dan without really having to yell and that didn’t seem all that realistic to me. The gunman could have left a two-way radio or something on the side of the road, hidden and then called for help, a distress call or something and sucked Dan in, he would have picked it up and then found out he was in a bad situation. But hey, that’s just me I didn’t write the thing (haha)
I would describe Roadside as a cross between “Phonebooth” and “The Hitcher”, two films that I rate up there with some of the best in the genre. Eric has created a film with a good atmosphere, minimal characters and locations and a few cool practical effects. Much like Contracted the film ends rather abruptly but unlike most of the haters, I think that’s a refreshing take. Due to some dialogue that lacks urgency or even any real importance to the overall plot combined with suspense that stumbles in the last 20 minutes prevents Roadside from really reaching its full potential. There was that height I hoped it would reach and it didn’t quite get there. None the less, Roadside is 82 minutes of pure entertainment and well worth your time. Keep an eye out for its official release date coming soon! Please support Eric and his other films cheers!
My rating for “Roadside” is 6.5/10