Death on Scenic Drive: Canadian horror film mixes Satanism, psychosis and shrill music
Canadian filmmaker Gabriel Carrer made some waves two years ago with his minimalist, modestly-budgeted revenge saga The Demolisher, a tale of an unstable man (Ry Barrett) who dresses up in riot gear at night and hunts and kills whatever scum he finds on the street. Of course, he’s already somewhat off his rocker and eventually goes full psycho, stalking an innocent girl to the fringes of the city. Said city was (primarily) Toronto and, unlike many American movies, Carrer made a point of trying to make Toronto a character, not an easy sell when compared to older, storied U.S. metropolis’ like New York and LA. But turning Toronto into a semi-vacant (intimate street scenes were shot just outside of the city in neighboring Guelph) nightmare-scape that mirrored the psychology of the character was a refreshing touch and it worked.
Carrer’s follow-up film Death on Scenic Drive is just as slick an exercise as The Demolisher (it’s clear that the director has a crush on filmmakers like Nicolas Winding Refn, John Carpenter and Michael Mann) and it too frames Toronto as its city, with ample shots of key locales and that phallic CN Tower. And like that film, it follows the mental disintegration of a disturbed individual and also weaves Satanism into the fabric of the tale. Though in Death, Carrer pushes his action into the lonely, isolated rural countryside and keeps it there and its main character is far more Looney Toons. And the Satanic angle hits you even more square in the face. In fact, Death could be seen as a sort of sequel to The Demolisher, or at least an evil kissing cousin.
The film stars Stephanie Ash as Larissa, an average and pleasant young woman who drives from Toronto to what is presumably Guelph, to a remote house where she slowly, surely goes bananas. In fact, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, we’re kind of convinced she’s a bit batty from the get-go, mostly because composer Starsky Partridge‘ s punishing and ear-bleeding electronic music score telegraphs that we’re essentially in Hell itself at all times. Seriously, this soundscape is assaultive and might do more to scare away potential viewers than the bursts of shocking, transgressive violence that blow out as the movie progresses. Death is not a fun movie. It’s all style and psychosis. It’s angry and frustrated and mean. While The Demolisher played out primarily as a downbeat action film, Death on Scenic Drive wants to hurt you with its audio/visual bludgeoning and it does exactly that.
Ash is fine in the main role (though maybe not as expressive as she should be) and Barrett shows up too in a very different role (and with longer hair!) than the previous film. But the real power of Death on Scenic Drive is in the snowy, miserable atmosphere (Carrer’s cinematography is stunning when his camera is outside) and the director’s go-for-it, budget-defying insistence on creating a perverse, gauzy, color-crazed funhouse/madhouse posing as a movie. Also, dog lovers… mmmmmaybe think twice before taking this one in. Just sayin’. Also, also: the opening credits are freaking amazing.
Death on Scenic Drive is a Canadian Gothic filled with gore, madness, weirdness, satanism and screeching, squelching music. It won’t be for all tastes. But that’s kind of the point. Who wants a movie for all tastes, anyway?
Death on Scenic Drive will have its World Premiere this Saturday at Germany’s Hard Line film festival.