An on-the-road ordeal movie, which has a nicely specific Northern British noir feel and riffs intelligently on the likes of Duel, Road Games, Road Kill and The Vanishing without seeming too derivative. Zakes (Will Ash), a would-be writer supporting himself with a dead-end gig putting up posters in garages and motorway service stations, is on the road, late at night in driving rain, arguing with his understandably fed-up, if slightly naggy girlfriend Beth (Christine Bottomley) – who is on the point of becoming so fed up with his insensitive self-absorbtion she is ready to chuck him. Momentarily, as a truck passes, the back shutter rolls up and Zakes thinks he sees a caged woman in the back – he calls 999, and even gets out to investigate, but thinks it’s more important to put up his last batch of posters. Appalled by this, Beth finally dumps him – and then disappears from the services station, pushing Zakes into a hysteria pitch compounded by security guards who toss him out when his attempt to search in the ladies’ loo gets him marked as a pervert and some rival football fans who notice his anti-Manchester City sticker burst his tire just as the white lorry is pulling out. Zakes steals a car, and the nightmare escalates as he tries to get Christine back, while sought by the police for carjacking and, eventually, murder.
Writer-director Mark Tonderai keeps the nasty little story nice and tight (at a trim 82 minutes) but manages to pull a couple of twists – when a security guard (Robbie Gee) realises the hysterical lad was telling the truth, he is suddenly stabbed in the eye by a workmate (Stuart McQuarrie) who is in on what turns out to be a well-organised people-snatching conspiracy, and there’s a clever sequence in which Zakes is teamed with an escaped, battered woman (Claire Keelan) and they seek help at the home of an elderly, folksy, weird couple in the middle of nowhere. Genre conventions prompt us to distrust both the sudden ally and the backwoods types, who are at cross-purposes. As things wear on, the film detours into the currently-fashionable torture field, with Zakes waking up to find his hands nailed to the floorboards and painfully getting himself free then jabbing his palm-spike into the eye of a villain. Along the way, the hero takes time to realise Beth was right to value the sight of the stars (he’s been the most insensitive would-be writer imaginable) and then overcomes his lack of commitment, and some major injuries, to face off to the hooded, faceless truck driver (Andreas Wisniewski) in a compound where kidnapped girls are kept chained in pens. Like most modern thrillers, it has a lot of play with the mobile phone – messages received by the wrong person (a graphic reveal that Beth has been unfaithful comes at the worst moment), dying batteries, full-up photo-memories, last-number callback and phoning someone in hiding so the ring-tone gives them away all feature.
There are also old faithful suspense bits: good and bad barking dogs (well after his utter evil has been established, the truck driver confirms his rottenness offscreen by kicking the sympathetic mutt); big bunches of stolen keys that fit various cages, chains and vehicles; a hare-trigger alarm system; improvised weapons ranging from a cabinet-opening widget to a container-lifting crane; and that good old sense of restlessness, unease and panic. By necessity, it throws in a lot of improbable stuff, but moves at such a clip and is rooted in solidly good performances – Ash and Bottomley are not very appealing at first, but command sympathy by virtue of their commitment to rescue and survival, while everyone else mostly has to be ambiguous and/or sinister.