Unpleasant without being scary, and full of style sans substance, Brian Visciglia’s feature debut, Ryde, comes off as a kind of misogynist “American Psycho.” There’s a hint of Christian Bale’s Bateman in David Wachs’ pristinely chiseled psychotic, but none of Bret Easton Ellis’ satire.
Wachs (“The Last Hurrah”) plays Paul, an elusive loner who one night takes a ride in a “Ryde” cab. (It’s Uber, basically). Realizing that the app will give him carte blanche to prowl the streets of L.A., picking up hot female strangers and beating them to death, he sets about stealing a vehicle and posing as a charming driver named Karl.
A concurrent story sees Jasmine (Jessica Serfaty, “FML”) and her ghastly boyfriend Marcus (Ronnie Alvarez, “Kill Kapone”) going out on the town. Their relationship is at a low ebb, defined by passive-aggressive bickering and resentment. Their paths cross Paul’s, and it’s only a matter of time before one or both of them will be his next, and possibly final, victim.
What is behind Paul’s malaise? We’re given few clues. A generalized contempt — or a John Doe-like jealousy, perhaps — for the social mainstream? Maybe he’s disgusted at people’s lack of authenticity. (A bit rich coming from a guy who just stole someone’s identity.) Alas, this is a character-driven story whose characters, when not downright contradictory, are too thinly-sketched to draw conclusions.
Paul’s one emotional connection is with the male driver (Kyle Thomas Schmidt, “Malady”) whose name he takes, and the tension between them is intimate. I was half expecting an exploration of denied homosexuality. After all, every woman who offers herself to Paul is never given satisfaction in return — they’re just beaten to death, as if he’s blaming them for his true, forbidden desires. It might have been an interesting twist.
Because there is a clear connection between death and sex throughout. When Paul cleans his knife in the sink it looks like masturbation; and almost every killing is a rhythmic beating shown from the female perspective, with Paul grunting in their face. The death scenes are basically the bedroom sequence of “The Killer Inside Me” repeated ad nauseum. At one point he beats a girl for so long her head detaches.
The victims are a grotesque parade of shallow party girls. Actually, almost all the women in the story are presented as obnoxious, slutty and/or whiny. It’s like we are witnessing the dream of a Men’s Rights Activist. Consider the evidence: The cuckolded blue pill guy is given a relatively gentle death, while the possessive red pill a-hole gets a completely undeserved reprieve; all the women are seemingly out to tease men and mock them; and the one female with whom we are expected to sympathize with ends up being hopelessly forgiving of her abusive partner.
So, it’s something of a revenge flick in clothing borrowed from better movies. It combines some of the antagonist focus of “Maniac” with the impostor conceit of “Maniac Cop,” but with none of the Freudian depth of the former or the ironic humor of the latter. Horror hounds will likely be disappointed by the lack of tension and variety, while psychological thriller fans will be left unconvinced by the modus operandi.
Ryde is an occasionally stylish (it’s impossible not to think of Michael Mann when watching the rain-reflected midnight L.A. combined with a mildly tragic electronic score), but ultimately unsatisfying slasher which borders on torture porn far more frequently than it bothers to explore a dark soul. It’s black of heart and morally confused, and really not worth 84 minutes of your time.