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Octane review

Who hasn't pulled over at a service station in the small hours, gazed around at the oddballs shuffling past the congealing all-day breakfast hot-plate and wondered what the hell all these people are doing on the road at 3am?

Welsh writer Stephen Volk must have done. His psychological thriller probes the twilight world of all-night, nameless-America rest-stops - - a goldmine of weird folk, untold stories and eerie locations. It's just a pity that his debut film is one of two halves: the first cool and intriguing; the second a pretentious, hollow mess.

The story follows chain-smoking divorcee Senga (Madeleine Stowe), who's driving her belligerent teen daughter Nat (Mischa Barton) home through the night after a weekend with her father. Tired and snappy, the duo stop for coffee, cueing Nat's meeting with an enigmatic backpacker (Bijou Phillips) who offers her the chance to join a freeway-prowling cult led by The Father (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Before you can say "The Vanishing", Nat has disappeared and Senga is terrified, desperately trying to find her sprog amid the roadside cafes and disused warehouses of Anywheresville, USA.

Bathed in nighttime hues and pulsating beats, Octane has good looks bolted to a creepy central premise. There's also an air of ambiguity swabbed from the suggestion that Senga's version of events could be fuddled by drugs or lack of sleep.

Then comes the narrative switch to focus on the cult who have stolen Nat - and with it comes the crushing disappointment, all tension and shivers replaced by giggles and absurdity. Yes, we're talking your everyday cinematic cult here, sweaty members getting down to some sensual dancing (you half expect Neo and Trinity to join in) and spicy sapphic seduction. Rhys-Meyers doesn't help any, again resorting to his head-tilting Velvet Goldmine schtick.

If that hasn't killed your interest, the final reel descends into bargain-basement Crash territory spiked with illogical psychobabble. What a waste.

The first film from British horror house Four Horsemen, Octane sets itself up as a stylish, thought-provoking chiller. Shame it runs out of gas halfway through.

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