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Octane (2003)

Driven by Evil

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 91 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

In the dark, in the aftermath of a bloody freeway accident, paramedics tend to a man lying trapped in the car. As police sirens are heard approaching, one paramedic says to another 'Move it!', and they brusquely tear the man screaming from the wreckage, gag him, and flee the scene. From this creepy opening, 'Octane' takes the freeways, lay-bys, truckstops and roadside restaurants that most of us only ever pass through, and turns them into a twilit netherworld where people vanish without trace, freakish blood rites are performed and one's deepest nightmares must be confronted.

As Senga (Madeleine Stowe) drives interstate through the night, she starts becoming convinced that something is not right. It might just be all the caffeine and uppers she's been taking to keep her eyes open, or the constant strain of arguing in the car with her rebellious teenage daughter Nat (Mischa Barton), but Senga finds something menacing in all the fellow-travellers that they encounter – even the free-spirited young hitchhiker (Bijou Phillips) that Nat finds so alluring. So when Nat storms off after a vicious argument, and is last seen driving away in a winnebago with the hitcher and another woman, Senga begins a frantic search, not sure whether she can trust the tricks her mind seems to be playing on her, let alone the police, or the strange recovery man (Norman Reedus) with the tow truck who seems to be wherever she goes.

'Octane' sets itself up to be surrealist noir, buzzing with edgy atmosphere and insomniac paranoia (aided by the excellent soundtrack of Paul 'Orbital' Hartnell), as its characters wonder around seeminly trapped in transit between all normal reference points. When Senga is not out on the motorway, bathed in the clinically moody blue of roadlamps and flashing police lights, she finds herself at strange stopping points that exist in glorious isolation from the rest of the world. 'Who are all these people? What are they all doing here? What are we doing here?' she asks, as she sits in a 1950s style diner in the middle of nowhere, its lurid decor seemingly frozen for eternity in some parallel universe dreamt up by David Lynch or J.G. Ballard.

Unfortunately this effectively eerie atmosphere is let down by the ridiculous dénouement, which tries too hard to be too many things at once – a cultic update of the vampire myth, a revenger's tragedy, a psychodrama about abortion anxieties – and ends up being an unholy mess of pro-life propaganda, tongue abuse and silly slash-and-dash. If only they had aborted the ending.

It's Got: Fake paramedics, fake police, creepy televangelists, surreal diners, and lots of tension.

It Needs: A more coherent, less silly ending to live up to the promise of the first hour.


Superb for its atmosphere and initial menace, but the ending is a real disappointment. 'Octane' travels down a long, strange highway, but unfortunately gets lost somewhere along the way.