Thanatos Road was one of the true gems of the Rhode Island International Horror Film Festival.
What presents like a bog-standard serial killer movie, and is saddled early on by stupid decisions by the main character, eventually twists itself into something altogether surprising and much, much better.
There’s a killer on the road, as they say, a kidnapped woman in a van, and a statewide manhunt. The killer hunts on the very same Arizona highway that our main character, Jennifer, is taking on her drive to graduate school. After taking a detour, Jennifer begins to drive behind a dusty old van. Soon, a hand appears in the rear window of the van, followed by a woman, gagged and bloody, pleading with her eyes for help.
Jennifer chooses graduate school over helping this woman, but can’t get away from the van which soon shows up at the diner where she’s stopped to eat.
Soon enough, her car has broken down on the side of the road and the van is idling just ahead of her.
When Jennifer gets out of her car, though, she – and the audience – gets something much more than she bargained for.
Up to this point, Thanatos Road has seemed as though it will be just another tired serial killer movie, one made worse by a stupid, selfish main character who does things that only a character in a horror movie would do. However, when Jennifer opens the door to the van, everything changes.
Thinking she’s rescued the woman that the police have been searching for, Jennifer packs the woman into her car and drives away (her car has begun working again), speeding towards safety.
Of course, she never makes it.
Thanatos Road turns out to not be a serial killer film at all, but something much more haunting and strange. The film’s reversal of role and audience expectation is not telegraphed, making it much more effective and scary.
There’s a note on the production company’s website that provides an explanation other than the one I’d come up with for the events of the movie. Since this note is from the writer and director, obviously it’s correct.
And it’s a bit of a shame, because his explanation is a bit too standard, a bit too well-used. Luckily, nothing in the film requires this interpretation and, like any good work, leaves Thanatos Road open to other interpretations.
If you get a chance, watch the movie and come up with your own interpretation.