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cast: Madeleine Stowe, Mischa Barton, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Norman Reedus

director: Marcus Adams

90 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Buena Vista DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by John Percival
Octane is a somewhat interesting modern road movie that tries to move in many circles but ultimately only succeeds in a few. The story centres on Senga Wilson (Madeline Stowe) who is on a long drive home after picking up her petulant daughter Natasha (Mischa Barton) from a visit to her father. As Senga battles her tiredness behind the wheel, she also battles Natasha [Nat] in the mandatory mother-daughter struggle of wills. Along the way there are rest stops at service stations and a view of the people who use these places in the middle of the night. At one point Nat insists they pick up a hitchhiker (Bijou Phillips) and entranced by the carefree attitude of the girl Nat soon falls in with a bizarre blood cult who prey on the people who use the road.

Visually quite interesting Octane sometimes feels like an arty music video, however the videogame footage inserts do begin to grate on the nerves after a while. Despite the modern presentation, the use of synthesised music similar to that of 1980s' horror movies does give the film a familiar feel. The rest of the movie however is a sequence of squandered opportunities and confused references. For example the paramedic crew at the beginning, who are not a paramedic crew are hardly touched upon again. Similarly the creepy couple with the camera, they have a supernatural air about them and are part of the cult but there is no development of their characters. The cult itself is highly organised and well funded but their leader seems to be barely out of his teens. Are they vampires or Satanists or are rather extreme members of the local blood-bank? The main theme through the muddy plot seems to be Senga's fight to get her daughter back. The whole thing turns back on her in a suggestion that she is in fact delusional and crazy, however it is this suggestion that is delusional and crazy as we have spent half the film watching her do the things she being told did not happen. However it is the assertion of Senga's protective instincts that forces her to fight for, and reconcile with, the child she is often at odds with. This central theme is probably the only constant in the movie.

At this basic (well trodden) level Octane is actually not a bad thriller. There are some good moments. The cast boasts some familiar names and the talent behind their performances is apparent but their effectiveness is often dulled by the MTV style of direction. It looks good but it can be annoying, as the ambiguity appears to be lazy and not really an attempt to elicit discussion or interpretation. There is some tension and a few moments of pretty good action. It is also nice to see that road movie that does not base solely on a group of teenagers getting picked off one by one. However it is the sheer weight of unexplained material that prevents Octane from being a good movie. If it had taken any one of the directions it hints at and ran with it, then it would have been twice as good.

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