When young, spunky, illiterate Vanessa Julia Lutz comes home from school one day, she sees her prostitute mother and abusive, drug-addicted stepfather 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 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 says so. Some items include Cholas, rebellious characters up against the law, strong female characters etc.
- The Big Bad Wolf: Kiefer Sutherland playing Bob Wolverton, a serial rapist and murderer.
- Black Comedy
- 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: Vanessa's just barely upscale from trailer trash, and her dream life involves trailer trash. By contrast, Bob's home life is all riches and beauty... but only on the outside.
- Country Matters: Mr. Wolverton shouldn't have called her that...
- Driven to Suicide: Mrs. Wolverton shoots herself when she realizes the truth about Bob.
- 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.
- Fairy Tale Motifs: Little Red Riding Hood.
- The sequel is based on Hansel and Gretel
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Never Learned to Read: Vanessa, but she's trying to learn.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sociopathic Hero: Vanessa brings forth a lot of hell, even to people that might not deserve it.
- 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.