This month I watched 1989’s Roadkill, which is one of the earliest films from “Toronto New Wave” director Bruce McDonald. After rock band Children of Paradise disappear while on tour, promoter Roy Seth (Gerry Quigley) sends intern Ramona (Valerie Buhagiar) to track them down in Sudbury. However, Ramona soon loses track of the band and has to find them before their big show in Thunder Bay. Along the way, Ramona comes across a wide variety of characters, including documentary filmmaker Bruce Shack (Bruce McDonald), aspiring serial killer Russell (Don McKellar), and mute weenie boy Mathew (Shaun Bowring).
Roadkill was the second feature film credit for Bruce McDonald, which is described as “a rock and roll film about a girl who learns how to drive.” The film was the first of McDonald’s collaborations with actress Valerie Buhagiar, who would also star in his next film Highway 61. Shot on 8mm film, Roadkill is a grainy black and white odyssey, with Buhagiar’s Ramona being the only constant character throughout the journey, even though all the characters she meets converge during the climatic concert in Thunder Bay.
Roadkill is very much a film by an auteur filmmaker, who hasn’t yet figured out his style. Roadkill is a film that looks very rough around the edges and in many ways the film is just a template for Highway 61, which is a much more refined film, with a similar road movie premise. In fact, Bruce McDonald’s penchant for making road movies is referenced upon in his 1996 breakthrough film Hard Core Logo, where the fictionalized version of McDonald is criticized for making the same type of movie over and over.
Despite being very much a “first film,” Roadkill did end up receiving its fair share of acclaim, including winning the award for Best Canadian Feature at the 1989 Toronto International Film Festival and Don McKellar receiving Genie Award nominations for both his screenplay and supporting role as Russell. Altogether, Roadkill is an interesting watch, but I can definitely say that Bruce McDonald has made some better films since then.