The curse of the dismal opening night film strikes again with Marcus Adams’ “Octane” that kicked off this year’s Cinevegas festival. Shot entirely in Luxembourg and starring an unhappy-looking Madeleine Stowe (in what’s anything but a comeback role), this toxically self-serious road thriller suggests a cross between “The Hitcher” and a Red Riding Hood story with a right-wing point of view. Except it’s not as fun as that sounds; it doesn’t have a fraction of the goofy absurdity of the “Omega Code” movies. Buyer beware.
Script, credited to Stephen Volk, resembles a teenage girl’s concerted effort to scare the bejeezus out of any parents who would dare to contradict the whims of their willful adolescent sprigs. Recently-divorced mother (Stowe) and her 15-year-old daughter (Mischa Barton, who looks to be at least 25) travel along a deserted stretch of highway, when the girl — who the mother won’t let go to a Woodstock-esque festival — runs off with a caravan full of young hippie backpackers.
Seemingly innocuous (if grungy) backpackers actually turn out to be members of an uber-bizarre, human blood drinking cult, swayed by the teachings of an unseen figurehead known as The Father (who, when finally shown, is played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers). These cultists traverse the countryside, evidently causing car wrecks and (quite literally) draining the life out of the victims, all the while listening to lots of bad techno music and engaging in soft-lit, slow-mo raves/orgies that look like outtakes from “The Hunger.” (Adams, not surprisingly a former commercials and music video helmer, seems convinced that the coolness quotient of the film will increase the more he layers this stuff on.)
Naturally, Stowe’s Senga is the only one who can put two and two together; the cops don’t help her, let alone believe her.
So, Senga’s on her own (with a little questionable help from an unnamed tow-truck driver played by Norman Reedus, who may be friend or foe) as she roams a faux “Twilight Zone” landscape of desolate rest stops, where cell phones never seem to work properly and some would-be-Lynchian surreal episode lurks around every corner.
Before a tiresome climax set in yet another one of those conveniently abandoned industrial factories, Senga will be reminded (by mysterious voices that inexplicably emanate from television sets and, sometimes, just the thin air) that she had once unsuccessfully attempted an abortion during her pregnancy.
Even were the performers not so disinterested, Volk’s screenplay not so hopelessly didactic about its “message” and the Luxeumbourg setting not so suggestive of tax-credit incentives run amok, it might be hard to watch “Octane” with a straight face. Pic’s murky, frequently under-lit widescreen lensing and comatose cutting are the perfect complements to pic’s overall dreariness.