I blame trailers.
Not the kind you see in a park that always seem to attract tornadoes, but those two minutes of footage you get that say, hey, here’s what the flick is about. It’s got funny, it’s got blood, it’s got a little sad. Bring the kids.
If you don’t have the trailer, you’ve got the box – and the box for “Rollercoaster” says:
“Reaching paradise isn’t exactly escaping evil!”
The picture on the cover is of the three leads, in dark green and blue hues.
All of this mentally adds up to some sort of horror film. Even the opening shot, of a dead cow lying in a field, implies that what’s coming involves sharp knives and stalking.
In a way, it does. “Rollercoaster” details a slice of days in the life of a guy named Cage. Cage has what could only be termed an interesting existence. As the film opens he’s finishing up his last day of high school, though whether he’s graduating or if he’s going to be there a few years is somewhat up in the air.
Because Cage isn’t just some guy. No, he’s a drug baby who was adopted and raised by a pair of lesbians. Lesbians who try every day to teach him moral lessons and values through the use of flashcards and recitation of good character traits.
His two moms have managed to secure a job for him at a local cattle farm, where he meets the son of the farm’s owner. The son is named ST, and he hates his father for a multitude of reasons. Among them, the fact that his father beats him and blames him for the death of his mother.
It’s through ST that Cage also meets Charlie, who lives in a cabin… well, somewhere near ST. Though she has no job, and describes herself as poor white trash, she does have a lot of drugs kicking around, which ST shares with her.
ST and Cage, while on an errand, also encounter a religious zealot who calls himself Hartman, who eventually comes to believe that Cage should join him in his quest to bring sinners to God.
Cage himself is something of a blank slate throughout the film. As Hartman introduces him to Jesus, Charlie and ST introduce him to the joys of skipping out on work and getting high, and Cage takes it all in stride. Or as much stride as he can, anyway.
His default wish is to ride a roller coaster, and he talks about riding one in just about every situation. If he’s upset, he wishes he were riding one. If he’s happy, he compares it to riding one.
Now, what makes a roller coaster ride interesting are the two distinct feelings you get from it. The first is element of danger – how fast will it be, when will it suddenly spin or turn, drop, rise or loop? The second is the element of safety – knowing that you’re in good hands, that many have ridden the ride before you, and lived, and you will too.
In other words, the trust that you’re in good hands, and that everything is going to come together at the end.
This film has the first half of that joy down pat. After the first forty-five minutes of going uphill, the real ride starts, and it is certainly unpredictable. Anyone who ever watched a movie or ten in the last year will be able to guess how bits of the plot will end up, but a great deal of the film jerks and pulls the viewer in multiple directions, never quite allowing the viewer to settle into complacency.
Where the trouble comes is that this ride jerks around just too much. After a while, the viewer realizes that unlike a good roller coaster, this ride isn’t looping back around to the beginning.
It has no symmetry. Instead, it whipcracks one way, then another, over and over until the film stops making sense and seems to just be winging it. The ending is surprising, to be sure, but it doesn’t come as part of a progression of the events that preceded it.
In order for a film to really work, it has to adhere to some kind of logic. The box for this film implies it’s some sort of horror film, and in a way that’s true. Several horrible things do happen as it unspools.
The film itself implies, for the most part, that it’s some sort of drama – a TV movie, perhaps, about a mentally damaged boy who can’t really piece together his world enough to find a place in it.
Unable to pick loops and twists that head in a logical direction, the coaster falls apart.
But it’s an interesting ride while it lasts.