There’s something naturally fun about a movie whose plot revolves around a couple being hounded by small-town hoodlums, whether they be backwater hillbillies (like Backcountry or Wrong Turn) or Satanists (like Race With the Devil). Deon Taylor’s Traffik is a similar film with a grindhouse plot with a coat of Hollywood gloss thanks to its impeccably beautiful cast. This down and dirty thriller won’t win any awards and it tries a bit too hard to sell itself as a socially aware drama at the end, but the cast and plot keep you hooked.
Brea (Paula Patton) is a recently fired reporter for the Sacramento Post whose boyfriend, John (Omar Epps) hopes to get her out of her funk with a romantic getaway to a remote cabin. On the way to the cabin the two make enemies with some local bikers who are simultaneously mixed up in the nefarious world of human trafficking.
You’d think with so many horror movies advocating against it that couples would avoid romantic vacations in the woods entirely. That’s to say that director and writer Deon Taylor isn’t reinventing the wheel with Traffik. The typical thriller conventions are all present and accounted for, from the jerky best friend who seemingly enjoys saying the wrong thing (played by Laz Alonso) to the scuzzy looking bikers who wear their racism as proud as they do their motorcycle vests. But because audiences expect these conventions it allows them to kick back and enjoy a story they’re familiar with.
Nearly half of the little over 90-minute runtime involves scenes of Brea and John acting cute. He wants to propose but is trying to find the right time; she’s just been fired. An extended scene of them canoodling in a pool seems like a gratuitous way to showcase Patton’s flesh, but it does leave you interested in the characters. Their arrival at a small-town gas station is the spark that lights the match with the bikers catcalling Brea, culminating with her meeting a battered woman (Dawn Olivieri) who practically has a “sex slave” sign around her neck.
This familiarity also demands the actors carry the weight of the film on their shoulders. One of several things Taylor attempts to do to breathe new life into these movies is cast older stars as opposed to bright young 20somethings whose deaths you crave to mask how unmemorable they are. In this case, the film’s lead is the dazzling Paula Patton. (Why is she not a bigger star?) Patton’s Brea is a tenacious, altruistic reporter unable to find the “simplicity” of a story. A reporter in search of her one big break? What better way to do that then walk right into peril. Actually, Patton’s character is strong even if the camera seems to enjoy capturing her in lingerie or in bosom-baring tops. Patton is bubbly and dazzling, yet when the story requires it she present the necessary fear and, in the end, determination to compel the audience to wish for her success.
The rest of the cast isn’t given nearly as much personality as Patton, maybe because the script knows they’re nothing more than canon fodder. Omar Epps as John is a fantasy boyfriend who can only exist in a script. He’s utterly perfect aside from one indiscretion he needs to atone for. And you can probably guess how that works out. Friends Darren (Alonso) and Malia (Rosalyn Sanchez) are the jerk and the hot girl, respectively. Alonso’s character is annoying on the surface, but by the time he’s pointing a gun at his presumed friends you’re itching for his demise.
Surprisingly, Taylor should get credit for having the women outnumber the men. Maybe because the story involves human trafficking of women there’s an awareness on Taylor’s part to not make this a “man saves the day” story. This isn’t to say we don’t watch women in peril – there’s plenty of that – but when the final showdown involves two women….that’s unique. Without spoiling things the actual head of the ring, one who cites themselves as a cog in the system, is not who you’d expect and it’s hard to think of another movie that would even think to do that.
A key word used in the film is “simple” and that’s what Traffik is, a simple story that will appease fans of the genre. Traffik is a feature that will probably gets its widest audience on VOD but would be fun to see in a theater. You can just imagine the people screaming “Kill them!” en masse. If you’re in the market for a well-written throwback to the world of ’70s grindhouse, Traffik is your cup of tea!