Of late, suspense thrillers have unfortunately been linked with the "slasher" theme. Which is why it's a pleasure to see a movie like this - genuinely eerie in parts and not too much hamming.
The story can't wait to get on the road (literally), which is why we have a rather cursory briefing about the history between Lewis (Walker) and Venna (Sobieski). Venna has just broken up with her boyfriend and Lewis, who obviously has a thing for her, decides to buy a car and drive down cross-country to her college to take her on a road trip. On the way, he takes a detour to get his brother, Fuller (Zahn) out of jail, to which he is apparently accustomed. Fuller is everything Lewis isn't - a dare-devil, a loser, impulsive, naughty and cocky. They pick up a CB radio to while away the time on the trip. Here's where the fun begins.
Fuller keeps talking in different voices and finally convinces Lewis to do a woman's impersonation under the highly suggestive title of "Candy Cane". Sure enough, a guy named "Rusty Nail" lands up to chat. The brothers lead him along until they get out of range, then continue on their way. Surprisingly, the same guy shows up on their range late that night. Fuller forces the reluctant Lewis to pull a prank on the unsuspecting Romeo-apparent, by inviting him to the neighbouring room of their motel at midnight. Rusty Nail definitely turns up, but things don't quite go the way the boys expect them to. The next morning brings a nasty surprise - the body of the man from the neighbouring room. There's nothing left to do but confess, after which things go surprisingly downhill. They leave town, only to realise that the voice from the radio is following them around and can recognize them...and they have no idea who he is. Rusty Nail turns out to be a persistent guy, smashing trucks, trees and cars just to get an apology. When he gets one, he backs off.
The battered and terrified brothers make it to meet Venna, who is totally unaware of what’s happened. But she soon finds out, when Rusty Nail pops out of nowhere, demanding Venna as a Candy Cane replacement. A desperate flight only results in one realization - the man is dead serious and knows their every move. He then begins to play around with them to make them feel as big a fool as he did. He also manages to kidnap Venna and her roommate while leading the boys all over the landscape. It all boils down to an explosive finale, with an ending that leaves you with just a touch of goosebumps.
The pace of the movie certainly livens things up. The plot is a little quick off the mark and at times does get a tad predictable, but it holds pretty well throughout the flick. There are some genuinely scary moments and I thought those had died out with Mr. Hitchcock. The scenery is very helpful in adding to the effect of the movie. The long highway with nothing but a CB radio to keep in touch with your fellow man - and which also offers no scope for hiding. The monster truck, with its blazing lights and steamy breath almost makes you believe that it’s alive and malign. But the best part lies in the suspense about the identity of Rusty Nail - who he is, what does he look like, what drives him.
The cast actually manages to somewhat achieve the impossible - not get sidelined by the plot and fear of a suspense movie. The movie belongs to Zahn, with his persecuted bad boy image, his constant escapades into danger and trouble, and his infectious humour. You can feel for the guy, despite the fact that he almost hits on the girl his brother is after. Walker puts in an okay performance, considering he really doesn’t have to do too much. Sobieski is decent in the little bit she’s given, but nothing to crow about. However, they all manage to turn in a credible performance, minus excess hamming. But the guy who totally rocks the film is Rusty Nail, or the voice that embodies him. He doesn’t overdo it and try to appear too menacing. That's what makes it worse - the fact that he appears to be "just another guy".
The film ain't in the league of "Psycho", but it's quite a thriller nevertheless. Quite happily recommended.This article was first published on 31 Jan 2002.