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Film / Freeway

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To Grandmother's house we go.

"You shoulda let me out of the car when I asked you to, Bob. You see where bad manners get you?"

A 1996 black comedy thriller written and directed by Matthew Bright, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Reese Witherspoon.

When young, spunky, illiterate teen Vanessa Julia Lutz (Witherspoon) comes home from school one day, she sees her prostitute mother (Amanda Plummer) and abusive, drug-addicted stepfather (Michael T. Weiss) get carted away by the police. Not keen on being sent to another abusive foster home, Vanessa slips away from her social worker, grabs her red leather jacket and a wicker basket, and heads out to her grandma's house in Stockton, California. Meanwhile, police are on the hunt for the I-5 killer, who murders young girls and dumps their bodies on the Interstate 5 freeway.

Along the way, Vanessa's car breaks down, and she's stuck on the side of the titular freeway. As luck would have it, a kindly, charming psychiatrist named Bob Wolverton (Sutherland) picks her up... and with a big grin, leads her away from the road.

A sequel, Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby, was made without any connections to... well, anything.

This film provides examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Vanessa.
  • Author Appeal: The DVD Commentary invokedsays so. Some items include Cholas, rebellious characters up against the law, strong female characters etc.
  • Big Bad: Bob Wolverton, a Serial Killer who picks Vanessa up early in the film and tries to ruin her life when she injures him in self-defense.
  • The Big Bad Wolf: Kiefer Sutherland playing Bob Wolverton, a serial rapist and murderer.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Poor Chopper.
  • Book Dumb: Vanessa may be illiterate but she's still smart.
  • Costume Porn: Get a load of all Mrs. Wolverton's suits.
  • Crapsack World: Southern California is a land of incredible classism, where the poor are doomed to be eternal white trash while the rich commit whatever atrocities they want. When they try to fight back, the system destroys them regardless of who's guilty.
  • Country Matters: Mr. Wolverton shouldn't have called her that...
  • Driven to Suicide: Mrs. Wolverton shoots herself when she realizes Bob is a pedophile and serial killer.
  • Driving a Desk: Count how many times people look at the passenger and not at the road.
  • Evil Plan: Wolverton thought that Vanessa would be one more victim in his killing spree.
  • Evil Cripple: Even after he's paralyzed and robbed of the ability to speak, Wolverton continues to make Vanessa's life a living hell, portraying himself as an innocent victim and getting Vanessa jailed, and he strangles Vanessa's grandmother to death at the climax.
  • Fairy Tale Motifs: Little Red Riding Hood. The sequel is based on Hansel and Gretel
  • Fate Worse than Death: Bob Wolverton is shot multiple times in the neck, face, and back, yet he manages to survive. He survives but is left disfigured, loses an eye, is confined to a wheelchair for life, has to poop in a colostomy bag, and is given a CREEPY AS FUCK electronic voice box. Overlaps with Laser-Guided Karma as he really deserved all of it.
  • Girls Behind Bars: Played with. On one side, you have the typical lesbian inmate Rhonda, who hits on Vanessa. On the other hand, the dominant Mesquita, who immediately provokes Vanessa to a physical fight over who's the baddest bitch, thus the one in command.
  • Glasgow Grin: Vanessa gives Bob Wolverton one in retaliation for trying to rape and kill her.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Ramona and Larry, Vanessa's parents, are white trash junkies who neglected their daughter so badly that she's barely literate. Ramona is introduced emotionally abusing Vanessa, and Larry regularly sexually abuses her.
    • Bob Wolverton, a psychiatrist who moonlights as a necrophiliac Serial Killer of teenage girls. When Vanessa cripples him to stop his crimes, he plays the innocent victim and tries to get her thrown in prison for life before trying to kill her himself. He's also revealed to have a shed full of child porn.
  • Idiot Ball: Vanessa and the others manage to escape only because their jailers were way too relaxed and didn't keep proper watch over their charges. Nor were they strip-searched before departure, which would've revealed Vanessa's weapon.
  • In Name Only: The sequel, so much that it was released as Confessions of a Trickbaby in certain regions. The only connections are that it's the same director, a fairy tale motif, and a small clip from the first film appears at one point.
  • Karma Houdini: The Mexican Cartel Streethoods who kill Chopper in a driveby shooting.
  • Karmic Death: Vanessa strangles Bob Wolverton to death after he strangled her grandmother and tried to strangle her.
  • Laughing Mad: Bob Wolverton while he is hospitalized.
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: Vanessa goes through the first half of the movie with a red jacket; later she wears a red skirt. And of course she carries her things in an honest-to-god wicker basket. A deliberate Shout-Out to Little Red Riding Hood, which the movie is partially based on.
  • Little Red Fighting Hood: Shoots a rapist on the way to Grandma's house? Yep.
  • Meaningful Name: Bob Wolverton.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: What causes Mimi to shoot herself is when one of the officers bluntly points out how Vanessa is a child just like the children in the magazines Bob has.
  • Never Learned to Read: Vanessa, but she's trying to learn.
  • One-Word Title: Freeway.
  • Parental Abandonment: Vanessa has been in many foster homes, and the plot's kicked off by her losing yet another pair of guardians.
  • Parental Incest: Vanessa's being abused by her stepfather.
  • The Place: Freeway.
  • Recut: To avoid an NC-17, the film had cuts made to some very explicit dialogue (namely a series of disgusting come-ons from Bob to Vanessa) and Bob's mutilation of Vanessa's grandmother's corpse. The resulting cut was 102 minutes. After over two decades with only this R-rated version released, the original 105-minute cut was unearthed by Vinegar Syndrome from its original negative and released in late 2022.
  • Religious Bruiser: Vanessa forces Bob, at gunpoint, to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. She then shoots him and leaves him for dead.
  • Red Riding Hood Replica: Vanessa encounters a predator named Wolverton while wearing a red jacket on the highway when she makes her way to her grandmother's house.
  • Serial Killer: The I-5 killer, who kills and rapes young girls, then leaves their bodies on the freeway
  • Slasher Smile: Get a good look at Bob Wolverton once his questions get more prying.
  • The Sociopath: Bob Wolverton pretends to be a kindly psychiatrist, but moonlights as a necrophiliac Serial Killer of teenage girls. His motive is pure hatred, viewing his victims as "garbage people." When one of his victims fights back and cripples him, Bob plays the victim and uses the courts to destroy her life. Even his wife is nothing but an accessory, with him showing no affection to her whatsoever.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Vanessa brings forth a lot of hell, even to people that might not deserve it.
  • Take a Third Option: When Vanessa is able to get a gun on Mr. Wolverton and tells him that they're going to the cops, he talks her out of it by claiming that they'll just let him go and she'll end up in another foster home based on appearances alone. He suggests that he gives her money and they go their separate ways. Unfortunately, for him, Vanessa decides instead to have him drive to a secluded area, shoot him and leave him for dead.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. There are therapists but they're either malicious or unhelpful. Mr. Wolverton is a deliberate Take That! to a lot of the quack pop-psychologists you'd find in Oprah-ish talk shows. Think Jim Cunningham.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Wolverton slices off Vanessa's hair. Her missing braid turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun.
  • Too Dumb to Live: In a rare legal example Vanessa really shouldn't have mocked Bob Wolverton in court when she was being sentenced as it really didn't help her case. Also, Vanessa walking into a diner covered in blood all over face wasn't too smart either. And let's not forget the fact that she assaulted one of the police detecives who were interrogating her with a chair.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Did anyone ever find the guy Vanessa locked in the trunk?
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: After Vanessa shoots him in self-defense, Bob is able to convince the police that he was just giving her a ride and she attacked him out of the blue. The ploy works, and Vanessa gets sent to prison.