“I’m not just your therapist, I’m your friend”
There’s nothing like a good throwback to the old 70s thriller. Not only does Christopher R. Witherspoon’s movie beg for comparisons to Steven Spielberg’s Duel, but it also contains two characters in an auto shop discussing that very film. What makes a good suspenseful mind trip is a simple yet taut storyline that relies heavily on reaction and the unknown. I was more riveted with RAGE than any horror film coming out the past decade because it refuses to use blood and gore as a way to shock, (don’t think there’s no bloody violence at all though). Instead, you become involved in the cat and mouse chase, wondering if Rick Crawford’s Dennis Twist will be able to escape the masked biker that has been terrorizing him nonstop in broad daylight.
The mood is set very early on with the grainy, stripped down visual aesthetic and a score full of wind chime-like sounds that make you believe Michael Myers or Jason will jump out of the bushes. Witherspoon is unafraid to shoot directly from the automobile driven by Twist or to follow alongside. There is no blatantly greenscreened fake backgrounds blowing by; everything has the feel and pace of neighborhood driving, complete with crowded parking lots and speeding through red lights and crosswalks full of innocent bystanders. You become trapped inside the car with Crawford—both your prison and your only mode of defense—feeling the pressure bearing down and the fear that double horn honk of the biker will instill as it sounds near by. It may not be as good a film as Quentin Tarantino’s homage Death Proof, but I do believe it is more successful in bringing that level of tension you desire from something like this. Without the witty dialogue or sexualized women, Witherspoon is able to devote all his efforts to the chase.
As far as story goes, there is more to RAGE than just the biker seeking his pound of flesh through anonymous maliciousness—a force of anger and aggression. Twist is a family man looking to correct the errors of his way. He loves his wife Crystal, (Audrey Walker), but he has strayed into the arms of a mistress. Always dreaming to become a successful novelist, his bride never let him down as far as affirmation and support, but once she opened up her own interior design business, Twist began to feel less and less worthy of succeeding. The day in question here is right after a revelation that he’s no longer willing to risk his marriage anymore, but going to the city in order to break it off with Dana is the event that puts him face to face with his eventual attacker. Menacing as he stares at Dennis while parking his car, the biker soon begins to follow him on foot, the stakes escalating higher and higher in the hour that follows. The quotient of danger increases exponentially from just blocking Twist from a green traffic light, to knifing the side of his car, to cutting the brakes, and eventually a full on confrontation in a men’s room. The biker has no boundaries and seemingly no signs of quit.
I’m not lying when I say how I was on the edge of my seat for much of the movie. If I look close enough, I’d be sure to find instances of poor acting, especially an early exchange between Crawford and neighbor Morton Lewis about a chainsaw stuck in a tree, but when the important moments come, all bets are off. Whether it’s the film work and precise pacing or authentic performances of sheer fright, you do feel Twist’s absolute helplessness, hoping it will all somehow end soon, but things get even darker when the chase finishes at the couple’s house and Crystal becomes involved in the horror. I’ll admit to never thinking they’d go as far as they do, a bit of Straw Dogs coming into play, but I do believe they earn it. The biker, assumed to be the recently released ex-boyfriend of Twist’s girl on the side, is out for retribution after all.
Besides the tone and style of the film, Witherspoon and company also come through with some pretty intriguing shots. I’m still undecided on what to think about an early lunch scene between Twist and a friend, filmed from an adjacent table. The odd thing is that the camera is behind the people eating, so while we watch the actors’ conversation together, we are seeing a blurry arm and wine glasses moving between them and us. If this was an artistic decision or a necessity for budgetary reasons and a covert shoot, I’m not sure. However, it is a memorable scene nonetheless. In almost all other sequences also, the camera is often allowed to linger and capture extended action with minimal cutting. This style makes abstract cropping a possibility, leading to a static placement facing a house wall while the kitchen is visible to the left and a stairway to its right, angles both inside and outside the driver’s seat of the car, and an unforgettable close-up of Crawford’s eye, framed to the bottom left of the screen as he watches the biker have his way with Crystal. RAGE lives and breathes as though it was made thirty plus years ago and that is the biggest compliment I can give.
RAGE 7/10 | ★ ★ ★
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