Directed by Deon Taylor. Starring Paula Patton, Omar Epps, Luke Goss, Missi Pyle William Fichtner. USA 2018 92 mins Certificate: 15
Released on DVD and VOD on 16th July 2018 by Lionsgate
The horribly familiar opening claim of TRAFFIK (spelt with a backward “K” for no apparent reason other than providing us with an early talking point here) notes the inspiration of “true events”. A more accurate disclaimer would be the wordier “Ripped off from an assortment of post-DELIVERANCE rural-paranoia movies including, but not exclusive to, HUNTER’S BLOOD, THE ZERO BOYS, the biker gang sequence in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III…plus offering a nod and a wink to the HOSTEL movies and however many rubbish TAKEN films there have been”. It sometimes pretends to be a serious expose of sex trafficking, but the various crunchy woodland confrontations, only-in-the-movies plot twists and lingering shots of its comely heroine in skimpy outfits indicate intentions no more noble than less glossy and starry DVD fare like SHUTTLE (2008).
The functional set up establishes the hang-ups of glamorous Sacramento Post reporter Paula Patton, frustrated and somehow surprised that her boss (William Fichtner, appearing only in book-end scenes) lacks a moral compass – while also appearing anxious about the proposal just presented by boyfriend Omar Epps. The couple elope to the mountains for a romantic weekend and, like all couples in this kind of thing, endure an uncomfortable stop-off at a run-down gas-station, where Patton bumps into a distressed, strung out young woman and Epps inadvertently pisses off a member of the local biker gang with unintended “racial profiling”. Decking one of his partners in crime for spitting on his car, Epps thus instigates a film-long pursuit that escalates swiftly when Patton realises she is unwittingly carrying around a piece of incriminating evidence about their wider activities.
Typical 21st century accoutrements – no cell phone signal, dammit! – adorn the parade of late 20th century clichés: the damn car won’t start! No one involved seems to notice the amusing irony of a film about the sexual exploitation of young women working hard to cram in as many scenes as possible of an under-dressed Paula Patton running in slow-motion for our delectation. The character trajectory of Sheriff Missi Pyle (like Fichtner, dramatically underused) is entirely guessable and Deja-vu is a constant viewing companion.
That said, writer-director Taylor keeps it taut and trim, sustaining the tension with the assistance of Luke Goss’ initially charming British BastardTM lead villain, and the highly atmospheric, artful visual sense of veteran cinematographer Dante Spinotti (who has never been averse to genre fare – witness the duo of RED DRAGON and MANHUNTER alongside lower-budget fare like FAIR GAME). Characteristically resilient in her slasher movie “final girl”-styled plucky protagonist role, Patton is also an appealing character worth rooting for, rising above the hackneyed material. Give the movie credit for at least executing the clichés with some élan.
TRAFFIK also has a marvellous moment in which the heroine’s urgent need to contact the authorities is thwarted by a slow computer with a plug-in modem and the arduous process of uploading photographic evidence of sex trafficking using outdated technology. This amusing device for prolonging the suspense would be further protracted should anyone ever decide to do a remake set in the sectors of deepest darkest Norfolk, where dial-up internet is still a “thing”. It could be called “Traafec”, perhaps with a backward “c”.
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