Expressway to Your Skull, the debut feature from writer/director Michael Okum, begins with a young girl walking along a deserted stretch of road. An older, grizzled man stops to pick her up, some crumpled bills in his filthy hand. They share a flask at the side of the road and the man asks her to “do a dance”. He then grabs her and forcefully has his way with her before dragging her unwillingly to his shithole shack in the woods.
Cut to Ed and Amy, a cash-strapped young couple driving down what appears to be that same stretch of highway. Eddie has just done something which will solve their financial woes, and it certainly has nothing to do with investing smartly on the stock exchange. He needs to get the fuck out of dodge while things blow over. Ed has a destination in mind, but Amy isn’t quite sure just where that may be. But as long as they’ve got their plentiful stash of pot and ‘shrooms, Amy is happy to go along for the ride.
Meanwhile, the poor girl from the beginning emerges from a drug-induced slumber, bound to a table with the man’s hand over her mouth. She begs to be let go, but unfortunately for her, her “fun is just beginning”. Speaking of fun, Ed and Amy find a place to camp, swim and get high.
As they’re sitting in front of a campfire passing around a joint, the man emerges out off the woods. He introduces himself to the couple as Charlie. Awkward conversation ensues, and it turns out that Charlie is a bit of a survivalist/doomsday nut. The occult is mentioned and Charlie appears to be into that as well. Quite the fascinating fellow that Charlie. Anyhow, despite pulling out a shotgun for no apparent reason, Charlie gets up and goes on his merry way, leaving the couple unscathed . . . for now that is.
Seems ‘ol Charlie is looking for “the one,” and the poor girl at the beginning just doesn’t fit the bill. But Amy just might be the victim Charles is looking for. And with the promise of some good hallucinogens back at the shed, Amy and Eddie follow Charlie back to his dilapidated domicile. Might not be the best of ideas. Just saying.
What follows is your couple in the woods being stalked by a deranged hillbilly sort of flick. Seasoned horror fans may anticipate having driven down this road before, but Okum presents enough little roadblocks and detours to keep the drive interesting.
Coming from a first-time filmmaker, Okum’s film is remarkably confident and assured. Okum knows his craft and does neat little things such as juxtaposing a blown bubble popping with a shotgun firing. The film looks like a million bucks, which is all the more impressive considering it was lensed for a mere hundred grand. Okum plays with the language of cinema, using sound, editing and camera effects to create some hallucinatory and psychedelic moments – fitting considering that the protagonists spend a large portion of the film in some sort of chemically-altered state. But lest you think Expressway to Your Skull would be a good film to watch in the same state of mind as its two lead characters, think again. Up in Smoke or Pineapple Express this is not. The film is challenging, tense and unnerving. And Mark Aaron as antagonist Charlie is pretty fantastic. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine Rob Zombie casting him as Otis if Bill Moseley didn’t wish to appear in a sequel to The Devil’s Rejects.
Ultimately, Expressway to Your Skill is trip well-worth taking. It will be interesting to see where Okum goes from here.
***1/2(out of five)