Narrative/Storytelling: Freeway

The movie I chose to discuss this week is called Freeway.  It was written and directed by Matthew Bright and released in 1996.  Major stars in Freeway include lead actors Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland, and supporting actors Brooke Shields, Alanna Ubach, Conchata Ferrell, Brittany Murphy, Amana Plummer, and Tara Subkoff.

The plot of the movie creates a scary depiction of a modern day “Little Red Riding Hood” tale.  Vanessa Lutz (Witherspoon) is an illiterate teen living in southern California.  She lives with her mother (Plummer) and step-father (Michael T. Weiss) in a motel, where her mother works as a prostitute to pay the bills and also to purchase drugs to support her and her husband’s meth addiction.  Vanessa’s step-father takes advantage of her mother’s absence by sexually abusing her.  After Vanessa’s mother gets arrested for propositioning an undercover cop, both she and her husband are arrested (the later for parole violations and suspected sexual abuse) and Vanessa’s social worker, Mrs. Sheets (Ferrell), arrives to escort her to foster care.  In a moment of panic and irrational thinking, Vanessa cuffs Mrs. Sheets’ ankle to a bed and steals her car keys.  She leaves with a few beers and other items in a little red basket.

Vanessa drives around town until she finds her boyfriend, who gives her a gun to sell in hopes to help finance her trip.  She plans to drive to her grandmother’s house in Stockton, whom she has never met.  However, moments after she pulls on to the freeway, the stolen car breaks down and another car pulls off on to the shoulder, seemingly to help her.  Bob Wolverton (Sutherland) approaches her and after failing to fix her car, offers her a ride as far as Los Angeles.  Vanessa accepts and the two set off together.  After driving for hours the two stop for dinner and Bob reveals to Vanessa that he is a counselor for troubled boys.  Sensing that Vanessa has troubles, he offers to try to help her.  She agrees, and as they get on the road again, he begins to ask Vanessa questions.  The questions become increasingly graphic until Vanessa gets very upset and demands that the car be pulled over.  Bob continues to keep up his therapy façade until Vanessa tries to exit the car and realizes that the door handle is missing.  As she looks over at Bob, he punches her in the face and demands that she take her pants off while holding a razor to her neck.  She tells Bob that it will take a minute because she is wearing boots with lots of laces, and when he relaxes she hits him in the face with her basket and quickly jumps into the backseat.  As Bob swears and prepares to reach back and slice her with the razor, Vanessa pulls out the gun her boyfriend gave her and aims it at Bob’s head (lilyisreal, 2007).  She slowly comes to the realization that Bob must be the infamous “I-5 Killer”; a notorious serial killer on the loose noted for killing young women.  Vanessa delights over the fact the she will turn him in and he will likely get the death penalty, but Bob convinces her that he will get off free so Vanessa decides to kill him.

After leaving Bob for dead off a deserted exit on the highway, she steals his car but is later picked up by the police and arrested.  While in jail awaiting trial, she discovers that Bob did not die, although she shot him multiple times in the head and back.  The lead detectives are shocked by Vanessa’s brash admittance of the crime, but are unsure of whether to believe her about Bob’s intentions (kaitisinger, 2010).  Vanessa is escorted to jail and must defend herself from the advances made by her lesbian bunk mate Rhonda (Murphy) and inmate gang member Mequita (Ubach).  During a prison transfer, the van driving Vanessa, Mesquita, and a couple other inmates stops at a gas station and the girls are allowed to use the restroom.  Vanessa pulls a prison-made blade out of her pants and informs the other girls of her plans to escape.  The other girls join in and make their escape.  Mesquita and Vanessa become friends, and after meeting up with Mesquita’s boyfriend, Vanessa receives a car and continues her drive to Stockton.  Back at the crime scene, one of the detectives is searching for more clues and finds one that corroborates Vanessa’s story.

Police are sent to Bob’s house with a search warrant and discover a backyard shed full of child pornography, much to the dismay of Bob’s wife (Shields), who upon seeing this shoots herself in an upstairs bathroom.  Bob is just arriving home, but seeing the police cars in his driveway, he turns around and begins driving to Stockton as well, following an address written on the back of a picture he stole from Vanessa.

When Vanessa finally arrives in Stockton, she finds her grandmother’s trailer only to discover Bob wearing her grandmother’s nightgown and cap in her bed.  Bob has killed her grandmother, and insinuates that he did more with her as well.  He pulls a gun on Vanessa and they begin a struggle, just as the two detectives arrive and cower outside as they hear shots being fired from inside the trailer.  Vanessa is able to jump onto Bob’s back and strangle him with a wire, finally ending the terror as the detectives finally rush in and tell her to go outside.  After surveying the gruesome scene in the trailer, the detectives go back outside to see Vanessa sitting down, makeup smeared down her face, and she simply asks, “Ya’ll got a cigarette?”

This film is presented chronologically, and this aesthetic choice contributed to the building of suspense with the audience.  The use of storytelling methods in this film impact character development by portraying Vanessa as a child of the system, setting her up to be disbelieved when she tells the detectives of Bob’s horrors.  Foreshadowing is also impacted in this film by the use of symbolism; Vanessa’s red shirt and basket identify her early on as Little Red, and Bob’s last name identifies him as the wolf.  Irony is also used in this movie; right after Vanessa’s boyfriend gives her the gun, he is shot defenseless by a rival gang member.  I believe that if the film followed a non-linear presentation style, there would have been a lesser general effect on the audience.  The chain of suspense would be broken if the timeline was fragmented.


kaitisinger [Screen name]. (2010, January 20). Freeway Interrogation Scene [Video file]. Retrieved from

lilyisreal [Screen name]. (2007, June 16). Freeway – scene in the car [Video file]. Retrieved from


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