Director: Matthew Bright
Screenwriters: Matthew Bright

Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


Freeway is a fascinating, allegorical tale of a woman’s victimization and her strength and power to persevere. It’s a sort of a modern version of Little Red Riding Hood, but it’s also much more, so packed with plot twists and turns that it is almost impossible to summarize, but as completely engrossing and stimulating as it can be. Director Matthew Bright has shaped a film which is on the one hand unrealistic, even absurd at times, full of excess, overstatement, and theatricality, but on the other, very self-conscious and aware of its own devices and ultimately very controlled and effective.

That a film which is sometimes so manipulative can work so well is really a tribute to its creators and also to Reese Witherspoon, who plays Vanessa, a sixteen-year-old child/woman from a dysfunctional family. When she escapes from the social service workers, she decides to hit the road in search of her grandmother’s trailer, but when her stolen car breaks down a few miles up the freeway, she accepts a ride proffered by Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), a seemingly respectable psychologist. Unfortunately, a short time later his sympathetic questioning turns prurient and subsequently violent, and Vanessa must defend herself from his attack. Then, when Bob rises, almost literally, from the dead, Vanessa must, incredibly, defend herself against her attacker’s accusations! And there’s much more to come.

While Vanessa’s trials and tribulations are the basis for this moral tale, Freeway is not exactly a straightforward narrative. Rather it’s a stylized fable which will leave few people unaffected; more likely it will greatly provoke you. Freeway is truly a unique and galvanizing experience.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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