Image Entertainment // 2009 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // March 19th, 2010
How many more will die?
Based on the horrifying true story of William Bonin.
Freeway Killer attempts to recount the killing spree of William Bonin (Scott Anthony Leet, L.A. Twister), a serial murderer and sex offender convicted of the murder of 21 boys between 1979 and 1980. He's aided by Vernon (a fictional or composite character based on Bonin's real accomplices, played by Dusty Sorg, Heroes) and Kyle (Cole Williams, North Country), a young man that Bonin picks up and transforms into a killer like himself.
The more movies you watch, the more bad movies you see. The more bad movies you see, the more difficult it is to find new ways of explaining why they're bad. Sometimes, bad is bad. And the 2009 true-crime horror thriller Freeway Killer is bad.
It's impossible to watch Freeway Killer without comparing it to John McNaughton's great, disturbing Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer -- essentially the last word on real-life serial killer movies. It's even harder when Freeway Killer has the gumption to cast Henry himself, Michael Rooker, in a supporting role. What I'm sure is meant to be a knowing homage totally backfires on the film, constantly reminding the viewer that similar material has been done before, much, much more skillfully. Anyone who's ever seen Henry needs never to watch Freeway Killer. Actually, even those who haven't seen Henry need never watch Freeway Killer.
The movie's central performance by Scott Anthony Leet as William Bonin is perhaps the most significant of its shortcomings. While a genuinely powerful or disturbing turn could have at least made up for the lack of a strong narrative (think of Jeremy Renner's turn in the otherwise confused and messy Dahmer), Leet isn't up to the challenge. His performance is all slicked-hair, twitchy, "aren't I scaaary?" mannerisms that at no point attempts to understand the man he's portraying. The same goes for the film itself; while there's no way to explain Bonin's crimes, Freeway Killer might have at least tried to get inside the man's head and let us see the world through his eyes. It would have been a significantly more unpleasant viewing experience, but also more powerful. And while a sexual component of Bonin's crimes is hinted at throughout the film, it's never really addressed (the real-life Bonin assaulted his victims). Freeway Killer wants to revel in the "real" ugliness of the murders, but doesn't have the courage to confront the reality of what happened. I'm not saying that's a film I would have wanted to watch. I'm just pointing out that is makes Freeway Killer dishonest as well as exploitative.
The Blu-ray release of Freeway Killer from Image Entertainment is one of the worst HD titles I've come across since switching over to the format. The film boasts a 1080p transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but it's flat and soft and dull-looking. Detail is almost non-existent and the entire color palette is washed-out and drab (though some of that is no doubt by design). The film appears to have been shot on some kind of video, but the HD transfer certainly doesn't do that justice; this looks only as good -- if not worse, actually -- than an upconverted standard-def DVD. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also surprisingly uninvolving, though it at least delivers the dialogue clearly enough to function passably.
Only two extra features have been included on the disc. The first is a feature-length commentary by director John Murlowski and screenwriter David Birke. The pair talk about the production, the movie's real-life inspiration, serial killer William Bonin, and the limitations of low-budget filmmaking. Nothing they say is all that objectionable (they don't fully fall into the trap of overly praising a movie that isn't working), but the commentary is dry and uninspired. A behind-the-scenes featurette, "Freeway Killer: Captured," is also included, but it's totally dispensable.
I'll say it again: if you've got the stomach for it (and believe me, it takes a pretty strong stomach), check out Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and avoid Freeway Killer altogether. This is a movie for no one. Sometimes, bad is bad.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R