“Oh, there is a duck. We’ll take it.”
I was a well-behaved teenager, all things considered, but when I was eighteen years old I checked off a box on the list of cliched teen antics when I totaled my dad’s car. It’s not important that I fell asleep at the wheel after staying up the night before — so that I could attend an early morning driver safety class — or that I crossed a lane of oncoming rush hour traffic while unconscious and didn’t hit a single car. No, the reason I’m sharing this is because of what happened next. I awoke doing fifty mph across someone’s yard, slammed the brakes, bounced over a log, and crashed into some trees.
And as I turned off the blaring radio in shock I heard a screen door open and a man calmly exclaim, “Aw hell, not again.”
That surreal reaction is a common thread throughout the new documentary, The Road Movie, as drivers and passersby alike respond with indifference and a detached awareness to the utterly bonkers vehicular chaos happening around them. Some express anger and shock, but a surprising percentage of these people are scarily calm as if this is just another day in modern Russia.
There’s no traditional narrative here, and instead the film is actually nearly seventy minutes of curated dashboard camera footage from cars and trucks driving Russian roads over the past few years. As such it’s hard to even call it a documentary, but two certainties remain. It’s all real, and depending on your own appetite for destruction, insanity, and terrifying occurrences just beyond your windshield, it’s also highly entertaining.
A few sequences feature quick glimpses of crashes, explosions, and other car disasters, but most of the film consists of more complete clips revealing vehicular POVs that tease serene, peaceful drives before all hell breaks loose. Trucks flip, cars crash, animals appear out of nowhere, a comet flies way too close overhead — and through much of it the drivers witnessing it all barely raise their voices. It’s nuts.
The Road Movie is more than just a Youtube compilation, though, as it also delivers genuine terror and real humanity amid the destruction. The latter comes in scenes of people trying to help each other just as it does with scenes of people flat-out ignoring others in need. One scene sees two cars collide violently on a wet road, and as people gather to help the passengers and survey the scene two women in the car that’s filming narrate by way of discussing the crash, theorizing about who’s dead and alive, and placing rotating blame on those involved.
It’s all scary to some degree, but the most frightening bits include face-offs with nature and a few choice interactions with fellow Russians. A drive through a roaring fire terrifies, as does a car that crashes through a guardrail, lands in a river, and begins floating downstream, but it’s the people that are truly unnerving. One guy climbs atop a woman’s hood and hangs there for several minutes as she screams and careens down the road. Another claiming right of way does so by calmly pulling a sledgehammer from his trunk.
The most nightmarish sequence, though, involves a young couple irritated with a van trying to merge without following common courtesy. The van pulls ahead and stops along with the car immediately in front of the couple, and suddenly they open up like clown cars from hell spilling out nearly a dozen large, similarly-outfitted men with murder in their eyes. Cops? Military? Skinheads? It’s unclear, but they rush the car and attempt to gain access, and it is the scariest ninety seconds you’re likely to see this year.
The Road Movie is a fun and frightening watch, and while no answer is given as to why so many Russians have dash-cams and why so much crazy shit is seemingly captured on a regular basis there’s at least some comfort in the knowledge that it’s all happening halfway around the world — and we’re just blissfully unaware of the madness occurring on our own roads.