Eric England set the indie horror scene on fire with 2013’s Contracted. It was an insanely refreshing take on a tired and stale sub genre. It was also a huge departure from his debut film, Madison County. In between those two films though, lies Roadside. Roadside is actually England’s 2nd film – meaning it was filmed before Contracted. But due to being stuck in distribution hell for the past several years, it is just now making it’s way into the homes of the general public. So how does it stack up? Well, it’s (appropriately) somewhere in between.
England told me that having Roadside seen after Contracted was akin to him letting us watch his home movies. Almost as if he was embarrassed. I’m not so sure I agree with that. The jump in production value from Madison County to Roadside is astronomical. Nothing against Damien and friends, but it’s instantly apparent that much was learned and implemented between films. Truth be told – Roadside looks fantastic, but suffers from similar pitfalls as other genre films.
We follow Dan and Mindy Summers as they travel through winding country backroads on the way to Dan’s family for the Holidays. Two things are made clear from the start : It is very cold outside, and our couple is far from the portrait of a healthy marriage. Mindy is pregnant, but selfish. And maybe rightfully so – since Dan is sending texts to his side piece on the sly whenever he gets a moment away from the wife. Like I said… far from healthy. After a brief run in with an erratic motorist, and a pleasant interaction with a local store owner – the Summers find themselves stranded on the side of the road and held at gunpoint by an unseen man in the woods.
Characters are scarce, but England does a commendable job of letting us know where everyone stands and what we should expect from them. The opening half of the film sees just enough people come and go to cast suspicion on who the man with the gun could be. But the man with the gun….that’s where things get tricky.
The man speaks in a very calm demeanor. Never yelling or raising his voice. This all seems like a standard evening for the guy. But I have a bit of a problem with that. I don’t like to get hung up on things like this, but to say it was jarring would be an understatement. The gunman is in the woods – perhaps 40ft (or more) from the Summers at any given time. There is an engine from the automobile running the entire time, but somehow the Summers are able to hear the mans casual words from the wilderness….it just doesn’t make sense. On top of that, it sounds surprisingly unnatural. As if the mid range on an EQ were cranked on his voice alone. I went several minutes expecting to see that he was communicating through a walkie talkie – or something of the sort. Nope. But hey, it’s a movie – so fuck it, right?
Logistics aside, Roadside has some legitimate tension, and even a few jump scares that are sure to get you. This is a very different film from England’s other works. So don’t go in expecting a high body count or maggot-filled vaginas. That said, it’s not without a few gore shots. I loved them, but they did feel slightly out of place given the tense thriller vibe that the film has going for it.
Although Roadside is a completely capable horror/thriller – I don’t expect it to find the same sort of success as Contracted – or to a lesser extent, Madison County. It’s excellently shot, and has a tremendous musical composition and score. But i doubt horror die hards will get behind it in the same way as the aforementioned films. Honestly, I think that’s okay. Eric England is a talented guy. One that has several other projects in the works already, and not necessarily in the horror world. Roadside serves as an excellent primer for what we can expect when cheap kills and gnarly effects are left behind in order to become a stronger filmmaker. It’s absolutely worth a watch.
Roadside hits home video on April 14th courtesy of Image and RLJ Entertainment.
Roadside is full of tension and suspense. It’s not without its faults, but it’s ultimately enjoyable and a pleasure to watch.