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“Roadkill” took me on an unexpected ride — a sexy and emotionally resonant journey of pain, vengeance, and the treacherous road to healing.

No time to read? Click the button below to listen to this post.

Ok, Roadkill. This one got better the longer I let it marinade. I will let a few lagging bits and lazy dialogue choices slide to celebrate the overall concept and some tense and well-shot and edited night car chase sequences. So, jump into the passenger seat, and let’s take a drive through this one together.

Now, no road trip is complete without music, so pop this on, too. Let’s tickle a few senses here. I’ll give you a second.

Awesome, welcome back. Let’s shift this into gear now, shall we?

It’s natural to see patterns or similarities across films. Not quite déjà vu, but rather a whisper or echo of something familiar. I had many of those moments with Roadkill, all being very positive associations.

At a very surface level, Jennifer’s Body. On both looks and attitude, Driver (Caitlin Carmichael) smacked of Megan Fox (with a hint of Scarlett Johansson). So much so that I did a re-watch of JB. The first time we meet Jennifer, she’s wearing a pink crop top and low-cut jeans. Carmichael rocks the same the entire film. If this visual alone doesn’t have you holding your breath, layer in another sense.

The song Death Hex by The Velveteers supported the bold introduction. If you need new dirty rock-infused hot chick content, this will do ya. Can I please drop that and not be canceled? I’m just acknowledging the deliberate thirst trap.

I promise I’ll give Carmichael, as an actor, and The Driver, as a character, their more respectful flowers.

While we’re using the word ‘promise’ and talking about using femininity and sexuality as a trap, let’s transition to….

Promising Young Woman.

Carmichael, much like Carey Mulligan, does an excellent job at flipping the switch between innocence and rage. They are also both unwaveringly committed to their revenge effort. Absolutely nothing and no one, no matter how compelling or convincing, will shift them away from what they view as their purpose.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

The fight sequences — both verbal and physical — between The Driver and The Hitchhiker (Ryan Knudson) totally smacked of an “old married couple.” And the way they both bounce back effortlessly and seek out more from each other? Same vibes.

And the most agonizing parallel: Bones and All.

Now, I can’t fully put Roadkill up alongside Bones and All. That’s just not responsible. Bones and All is a gorgeous, heart-wrenching work of art, and Roadkill does not explore the central relationship in any real depth. But goodness, this troupe is one I welcome continued and thoughtful exploration of within the horror context:

What happens when two dangerous characters find a connection with each other?

It is no easy task to make anti-heroes out of two violent and potentially unredeemable characters with their own unique trajectories.

Because that’s what our storyteller, Warren Fast, asks of us in Roadkill.

We can immediately feel the tension here, even if we’re not exactly sure what it means. The Driver’s potential for violence is revealed (only slightly) slower than The Hitchhiker’s, which is offered right off the hop when we realize that his mother houses him in the doghouse as a child and mutilates his pet and only companion.

“Now you don’t have to fight over the dog food no more.”

(Side note: The coroner, Doc (Buddy Campbell), wears a Friday the 13th t-shirt under his white coat. I like to believe this is a nod to complicated relationships between mother and son. Additionally, if you’re a low-budget horror film tackling some complicated content, I’m down for acknowledging limitations this way and being a little cheeky.)

Finding community — that sense of belonging — can be an elusive thing. Especially when complex, prolonged trauma is involved. You feel strange in most settings. Disconnected. Out of place. Totally self-conscious, waiting either for someone to see how broken you are… or for you to fuck it up royally yourself.

I once told a partner, “When I’m at my worst, I need you to love me harder.” Whether you hate yourself, your circumstances, or a bit of both, when those feelings surface or you are triggered, I will argue you’re often your worst enemy. When someone sees your light? It’s terrifying. Especially if you’re not ready or capable of “being seen.”

This is where I want to offer my love and defend The Driver.

The Hitchhiker and The Driver both navigated physically, mentally, and emotionally dark waters through childhood. Through that, they both maintain a softness — we see it with The Hitchhiker and his dog, as well as The Driver and the turtle.

The Hitchhiker longs for connection and stability. His daydream on the acreage when seeing the children and mother playing shows us what he feels would heal his inner child.

While we get the brief glimmer of compassion with The Driver, she doesn’t have that same vision or insight yet. She longs for revenge, which only offers a Band-Aid solution for those not ready or able to take a healing journey. With each kill, that Band-Aid is flapping in the wind and not protecting the wound.

So, when the Hitchhiker leads with support and acceptance and offers a sincere bid for connection IN THAT MOMENT WHEN SHE IS AT PEAK FURY — you know, “be the person you needed when you were younger” — The Driver can’t accept it. She’s not ready or able to explore it.

It’s a tragic missed connection, and she opts to continue pushing him away, chaotically and violently. And can you blame her?

Yet, I can already see others trying to apply the binary — assigning one of them good or evil, victim or aggressor, hero or villain. Anyone who’s had a couple of trips around the sun knows these titles are not mutually exclusive.

(Now, I’m gonna need you to take a hard right on your complementary listening journey and put on Taylor Swift’s Happiness. She’s been big lately, so it feels right, and we need to get at the tender underbelly of Roadkill; plus, the lyrics help land that point.)

When you have been harmed repeatedly, trust doesn’t come easily (if at all).

And the sad reality is anger and fear can be easier to embrace than vulnerability.

“I knew there was something about you. From the beginning, I knew. And I know you saw the same thing in me. Or else I’d probably already be dead now. But none of that matters much now. We gotta get on the road. ….look, I done some bad things. But I never did anybody [that] didn’t have it comin’, in one way or another. You probably thought, like me, you’d never end up on the other side of this. I get it. Make ‘em pay. Pay for the hurt.”

“….you don’t know pain.”

This is where I have to express gratitude to Carmichael for channeling those years of pain into her portrayal of The Driver.

Beyond demonstrating how The Driver gets triggered, she also brings that visceral rage essential to the experience of being a woman who’s felt a man’s sense of entitlement to their body.

I must praise Knudson for bringing softness and compassion to The Hitchhiker. For never once looking at Carmichael “that way.” And lastly, a nod to writer-director Warren Fast for writing two characters at very different stages of understanding their pain and healing.

It’s too bad they kept pointing weapons at their deepest hurts (thanks, Taylor) instead of finding the strength to explore what might have offered them both some peace.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5
Roadkill lands in select theaters and on digital on January 5th, 2024. 

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