Monday, November 2, 2015

Joy Ride

  Another blind buy from last month's impulse grabs, this white-knuckle thriller took me entirely by surprise. I'm learning new lessons every day, and this movie taught me not to judge a book (or in this case, a movie) by it's cover. It's not a new lesson per se, but it's one that's easy to forget- or at the very least, fail to heed. For all intents and purposes, The Green Inferno should've blown me away, and this should've been a turd. Quite the opposite in point of fact. I feel bad, because in the past- I took one look at all the young hip and ridiculously photogenic actors on the poorly photoshopped DVD cover and dismissed it as lowest common denominator drivel from an era of movies that nobody is going to give a shit about in ten years.

  Granted, that's a lot from a glance, but still. There are still plenty of sucky movies out there that can be spotted by the same telltale signs. Unfortunately, I have the feeling I've also probably been missing out on a lot of perfectly good movies. Like The Hills Have Eyes remake and Wrong Turn from last month's horror-thon, Joy Ride is right up there as a movie I would've brushed off a couple years ago without a second thought, but lo and behold they've all turned out to be a blast. Though for my money, Joy Ride is probably the best one.

  The movie is about a guy, Lewis, (Paul Walker) who drops everything to go rescue a girl he likes, Venna, (Leelee Sobieski) from the depths of despair, and take her on a road trip to forget about her troubles. However, on the way to Venna's, he ends up having to pick up his troublemaker older brother, Fuller, (Steve Zahn) and out of sheer boredom, the two of them end up pulling a practical joke on an anonymous voice over their CB radio. Bad move. The movie is tightly paced and expertly plotted. It does a lot with so little, and once the plot kicks in things start getting very tense.

  Of course, if you've seen any road thriller movie, you might be able to predict where this is going- but not how far it's going. The sound design and cinematography are great. They often created a sense of feeling panicked and trapped. Lewis, Fuller, and eventually Venna- are all dragged into a psychotic cat and mouse game orchestrated by a deranged trucker, and it's absolutely hair raising. This could've been a very standard, boring, or even cliche movie- yet against all odds... it wasn't. It was masterfully crafted to be a pure no-nonsense thriller of the best sort.

  Joy Ride is able to generate such raw suspense and tension that I was squirming in my seat. It does all this without needing gore, a high body count, or any jump scares. Not that those things should ever be go-to tools for a good suspense thriller, but when used smartly, and in moderation they can be effective. Joy Ride doesn't even need them. It has some scary imagery and a couple bloody moments, but nothing outright gory. It's not a slasher flick, lest you think it was. It could easily be classified as horror because of the sheer amount of psychological terror the protagonists go through.

   Paul Walker's wide-eyed youthful charisma is actually more endearing than I expected it could be. It gives him a leg up on the lead character of Wrong Turn for sure. Not that those movies should be compared in any significant way, but the thought sprung to mind that both movies kinda start the same way. Lewis is something of a unique character now that I think about it. He has the looks of a pretty boy ladies man, but he's a nice guy and rather low key at that. He's not the luckiest in love because he's been hung up on the one girl who doesn't think of him like that. It goes without saying a lot of this information is useless to the main story, but it's a fair bit of decent character development that was rather welcome.

  Venna and Fuller are fun characters but they're no more developed than Lewis, and probably a fair bit less so. On the other hand, we have the true mysterious character of the movie- the trucker who goes by the handle: Rusty Nail. All this guy is to us is a disembodied voice, and a big rig truck that seems exceptionally menacing and monstrous simply because it's all we can see of him for the most part. The truck is not just a truck, it's his weapon. This massive hulk of steel and blinding headlights bent on running our protagonists into the ground. I should point out that this is not a car chase movie. It's a stalker thriller more than anything, just one that takes place at roadside hotels, bars, empty fields, and of course the open road. All these settings are made eerie sooner or later as our trio realizes there is simply no escape from this violent maniac.

  If you like thrillers and appreciate some good old fashioned suspense and tension, Joy Ride is a must-see. It reminds me a lot of Vacancy but with the forward-moving dynamic of Speed. It's a dark movie, but a fun one. It takes it's time to build up, and the payoff is fantastic. The last act will have you gripping the armrests of your chair, or biting your nails. Such a great little flick that I have a feeling will unfortunately continue to go largely unappreciated. It's uncomplicated yet intricate and incredibly intense. This is one twisted Joy Ride you'll want to go on time and time again.

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