The Road Movie review

The Road Movie is more of a YouTube compilation than a documentary.

If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you may have come across some of the many, many compilation videos of cars getting into accidents. What you may not know is that most of them come from Russian dashcam cameras. The Road Movie is nothing but 70 minutes of this footage, loosely tied together without much of a narrative string. For some viewers, that will be more than enough. A handpicked collection of some of the most extreme moments ever seen from a car? It’s intense in ways that no fictional film could ever be, and guaranteed to show you things you will (hopefully) never face. On the flipside, it’s an invasive look into people’s lives, making you a peeping tom giddy to see the next accident.

It’s thanks to Russia that we even have this glimpse into this world, because no other country places dashboard cameras in their cars like they do. On Tuesday, a meteor lit up the skies of Chicago, the third largest city in the U.S., but the only footage we saw of it was from grainy security cameras. In 2013, in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, more than a dozen drivers caught the moment when a meteor streaked through the skies of on their dashboard cameras. It’s all the proof you need that in Russia, it’s rare to drive anywhere without a camera providing a point of view look at the world.

Why has it become a thing? Two reasons: corrupt cops and people looking into commiting insurance fraud. It’s considered insane to start up your car without having a camera running, and while this movie does capture many of the intended targets, we also are provided with footage of terrible drivers, road rage fights, and great helpings of general insanity. If you, like I, wondered if this chaos is something innately Russian or if it’s merely because we don’t have dashboard cameras installed everywhere to show off all the bad things that can happen elsewhere, let me allay your fears – Russians are indeed more accident prone than the rest of the world.

That’s not prejudice, it’s a matter of fact. World Health organization data reveals that Russia averaged 18.9 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people in 2015. The U.S., an equally nutty country, had 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people in the same time, but that’s despite having six times more cars on the road. (Still, neither are close to the record. Libya averages 73.4 fatalities per 100,000 people, but they don’t have the dash footage to prove it.)

The videos seem to confirm this. It seems like half of the drivers we see are driving on the wrong side of the road. In a blizzard. While various large animals and/or old ladies try to cross the street, indifferent to the drivers.

This much human drama distilled into a few minutes of footage means that The Road Movie is in a unique position to have more insane and thrilling moments than most modern action movies. The accident footage is terrifying and thrilling in all the ways an onlooker can state. You’ll constantly be scanning the screen, wondering who is going to make this video notable. Is it an oncoming car? Is it someone trying to pass another? Is it even the driver whose car we’re in? There are tons of crashes and horrific accidents, and although it’s never graphic, you still know going in that more than a few people likely died in the footage you’ll watch. Some accidents are just too terrible for anyone to walk away from.

The Road Movie Trouble

You will also see things that are so bizarre that no one would believe the drivers if they didn’t have tape. Expect to see runaway horses charging over cars, military aircraft zooming by overhead, a tank showing up to the car wash (this one actually seems staged), and men parachuting into traffic out of nowhere.

Each video just moves into the next, and there’s no narration of any sort. The film does have connective tissue, as it cleverly allows the passenger’s discussions to show what they’ll be focusing on next. Through some editing, we see what it’s like to install the cameras and hear people discuss their importance. We hear people worried that the accident they just witnessed was a fatal one, and hear the all-too-real reactions to the events outside.

While the visceral thrill of insane accidents and road rage is clearly the pull, the film doesn’t want to focus on this, and it quickly moves past most. When it does feature a longer clip, it’s to show the human side of things, such as multiple motorists racing to the side of the road to help accident victims. At one terrifying moment, you’ll see what it’s like to drive through a forest fire and barely survive. These clips are the heart of the film, the stuff that really sticks with you. It’s impossible not to think of what you’d do in a situation like this, and root for the people to be okay as you watch them dealing with unimaginable situations.

But is there a reason to watch this rather than one of the thousands of dashcam compilations that can be found for free on YouTube? I suppose you can make the point that this is a truly curated account. The focus on the emotions of the events makes for a much more easy experience than some you’ll find on the internet, some of which can leave you depressed and horrified by the sheer violence and inhumanity on display. The Road Movie is oddly uplifting in its own way, downplaying the negativity by showing what people can be at their best.

As someone who has sunk more hours into watching this kind of stuff than he’d rather admit, I managed to see new things and get new feelings from The Road Movie. If you’re okay with going into full voyeuristic mode for an hour and change, perhaps it will be for you as well. One thing’s for sure – as long as they keep recording, we’ll all keep watching.

The Road Movie hits theaters on Friday, January 19 from Oscilloscope Laboratories.

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