Director John Dahl was no slouch in the 1990s and early 2000s. He made The Last Seduction in 1994 and in 1998 it was Rounders. Here he is aided by a sharp screenplay by J.J. Abrams.
Joy Ride stars young actors trying to break through in 2001. This includes Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski. Walker is a handsome leading man playing Lewis, Zahn is legit funny as the smartass, troublemaker, immature prankster Fuller, and Sobieski looks like a young version on Helen Hunt (certainly Hunt was a big star in the late 1990s with both Twister and As Good as It Gets) as Venna.
Steven Spielberg’s 1971 debut film Duel is the lineage (do not mistake the influence on Abrams even this early).
Strong shot with the red neon glow from the motel sign on Walker’s face at the 18-minute mark.
Nice addition with the split diopter shot as Zahn lays on the bed in the foreground and Walker is in the background
There is a green light as Zahn and Walker put their ears on the room next door during an intense scene with Rusty Nail next door. Dahl’s camera pushes forward to mirror their eavesdropping as our view is of the painting on the wall.
Ted Levine’s unmistakably special voice plays Rusty Nail (only in voice- another actor is in the one or two few scenes with the actual figure). Levine’s delivery of “Candy Cane” and “you need to get your headlight fixed” is haunting. By not showing his face- the face of Rusty Nail actually becomes his frightening truck. This is a shrewd move.
In one sequence the road signs read “look in the trunk Lewis”- this is a great little 97-minute thriller.
@Malith- thank you for the assist