Both the serial killer film and the road movie have storied and traceable cinematic histories, operating in movements that often weave past and around each other, occasionally merging at a zeitgeist-driven nexus. The two sub-genres make for a compelling dialogue, with our cultural conception and artistic reflection of the road trip typically inviting romantic notions of freedom and possibility, punctuated with all the striking landscapes that highways carve across, while movie serial killers remind us of the danger that could invade our very homes. The early 1990s offered perhaps the most tangible intersection of these cinematic preoccupations, with films like Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers, but the branches of this particular tree extend much further. The likes of The Hitch-Hiker, Badlands, and Bonnie and Clyde provide the most obvious earlier foundation, but the “road” ultimately proved more important than the “trip,” and depictions fanned out to include works like Steven Spielberg’s Duel, which in turn spawned a mini cottage industry with efforts like Breakdown and Joy Ride.
All that context may seem cursory preamble, but it’s useful in establishing the disparity between that hallowed lineage of works and the absolute disaster that is He Went That Way. Starring Zachary Quinto as Jim, a struggling animal trainer trekking his chimpanzee Spanky across the country for a gig, and Jacob Elordi as Bobby, the seemingly conscienceless interstate killer who bums a ride, the film is a bizarre, chaotic mess of period signifiers and facile psychological portraiture. Somehow, this gonzo conceit is based on a true story, and tighter conceptual control might have constructed something like an offbeat Lynchian grotesquerie à la Wild at Heart or a noirish Coens’ oddity; after all, He Went That Way is at its core a destination-agnostic Odyssean journey, firmly rooted in ‘60s unrest and replete with off-kilter waypoints populated by screwball characters.
But in order for the film to work, a tonal high-wire act is required, and He Went That Way doesn’t even make it off the ground. The film is conceived as a demented buddy movie of sorts — really the only thing it’s bringing to the murderer-on-the-move template — but its character work is so arch and affected that it comes across as a CliffsNotes version of spree killer psychology. Presumably tapped here thanks to his work as hot jock sociopath Nate Jacobs in Euphoria, Elordi somehow makes that show’s melodrama seem subtle, all broad loose-cannon posturing. Indeed, the whole thing almost plays as a farce of itself, which leaves Bobby feeling more like Fonzie or Danny Zuko than a genuine James Dean type. Add to that Jim’s bafflingly placid response to his circumstance wherein he basically handles Bobby with kid gloves, and He Went That Way bleeds further tension and stakes with every passing scene. By the end, there’s very little left to hold viewers’ attention, that is, beyond the trippy effect of watching an actor wearing an uncanny and overlarge animatronic chimp head endlessly bounce about. Without referencing the annals of cinema history, it feels safe to say it’s not a good sign when the most believable element of your film is a fake monkey boasting all the verisimilitude of an Eric André bit.
DIRECTOR: Jeffrey Darling; CAST: Jacob Eloradi, Zachary Quinto, Patrick J. Adams; DISTRIBUTOR: Vertical; IN THEATERS: January 5; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 35 min.
Originally published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 24
Enjoy our content? Want early access to features, interviews, and more? Support us on Patreon!