Road to Nowhere
Directed by Monte Hellman
Starring: Shannyn Sossamon, Tygh Runyan, Cliff De Young, Waylon Pane and Dominique Swain
Rated R for some language and
brief violence
2 hrs. 1 min.

Premieres Friday, June 17, at the Regency Paseo Camarillo

After a two-decade layoff, the enigmatic director Monte Hellman has returned to filmmaking with a story that only reluctantly reveals its clues. It’s a movie in a movie. Yes, one of those, a thought-provoking film where you may scratch your head and wonder:  Does the director know where he’s going? Will this movie leave me in the cold? Will I ever understand what’s going on?

Well, the answers to these questions are: Yes, the plot does actually go somewhere. No, you won’t be left out, though you might have to knock on the door a couple of times. And, yes, you can figure out most of this movie. It may, however, cause fervent debate among friends until well past midnight.

The story line revolves around the making of a movie about a young woman, Velma Duran, and her older lover, Rafe Tachen, who had an affair in a small North Carolina town, were involved in a murder, and then died mysteriously.

Director Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan) prepares to shoot his movie Road to Nowhere and is searching for the perfect lead for femme fatale Duran. Suddenly, he sees a head shot of Laurel Graham (Shannyn Sossamon) on the Internet.

Haven is smitten by the fact she is Duran’s perfect double. P.S. He also falls in love with her. Needless to say, she gets the part.

But it turns out that Graham, like Duran, has a mysterious past. So as each scene progresses, the viewer is left to wonder about her true identity, the identity of her lead star, Cary Stewart (Cliff De Young), and whether or not Road to Nowhere is really a front for something far more sinister.

From the film’s title, it seems that Hellman’s modus operandi is to blur the lines between past and future, film and reality, real and imagined. His story has a tangled chronology that leads viewers to question their sensual perceptions and their ability to logically define reality.

Does Hellman tie up all the loose ends? No. Some parts of this plot, even the film locations, are never really defined.

I would suspect this is deliberate. You want logic, go read a dictionary. What Hellman seems to be showcasing here is his ability to do magic tricks, to throw off viewers’ sense of place and time and to challenge their ability to pay attention. Using long, lingering camera shots, recklessly jumping between story lines, Hellman seems to be sending a message: We’re not in a hurry and we don’t care about sequence. What’s important is to keep your eyes on the magician.

At the center of this film’s magic is the presence of Sossamon, whose face and body movements seem to flow off the screen effortlessly. It’s a tricky business to give sympathy to a murderer, yet Sossamon makes it look easy. Can a killer have a heart? Well, in this case, she certainly seems to capture Duran’s passion and guilt. It’s rather like watching a ballerina pull the wings off a butterfly. Yes, what she did was a crime, and she feels terrible about it, but she does it so effortlessly.

This is not a film for casual viewers. To enjoy it, you will have to put in some work. But Road to Nowhere is really a misnomer, perhaps an ironic pun. It does go somewhere and it questions your ability to travel along. It’s as if Hellman throws down the gauntlet and asks:  Who wants to get lost in the forest?

It should encourage you to know that I took the trip, got thoroughly lost, and managed to find my way out. Trust me.  It can be done. And looking back, I have to say, I enjoyed the journey.

tjpompey@gmail.com