Beware the Voice on the Radio in ‘Joy Ride’

A road trip turns into a harrowing game of cat-and-mouse in 2001’s pedal-to-the-metal thriller ‘Joy Ride’. When brothers Lewis and Fuller Thomas decide to play a prank on a trucker over the CB radio, they set into motion a terrifying chain of events. Directed by John Dahl of neo-noir fame, and penned by J.J. Abrams, this high-octane horror film takes audiences on a breakneck ride where human depravity proves the most frightening force.

On a cross-country drive to pick up Lewis’ crush Venna, the brothers’ bromantic banter takes a dark turn when Fuller convinces Lewis to pose as a lonely female driver on the CB. Their target – a gravelly-voiced trucker named Rusty Nail – doesn’t take kindly to the joke, and begins stalking the brothers in his menacing tanker truck, forcing them to confront the horrific extent of his rage.

While Rusty Nail is never fully shown, only heard over the radio and glimpsed in rear view mirrors, his disembodied voice alone sparks dread – thanks in part to nuanced vocal work from a post-Silence of the Lambs Ted Levine. Meanwhile, Paul Walker brings cocky charm as Lewis, though his wooden delivery lacks depth. As unhinged jokester Fuller, Steve Zahn steals scenes with manic energy, serving as a counterpoint to Walker’s stoicism.

The simplistic plot barrels ahead without much nuance, but Dahl’s assured direction and moody New Mexico vistas make the ride gripping nonetheless. Nail’s sadistic cat-and-mouse games unfurl against the desolate backdrop of desert highways and seedy roadside motels. While the gore is minimal, the constant paranoia of his unseen pursuit taps into our most primal fears.

In ‘Joy Ride’, open roads become claustrophobic traps, freedom collides with menace, and male bravado crumbles in the face of depraved madness. It’s an old-fashioned horror premise freshened up with dizzying chase sequences and iconic Americana scenery. So cue up that adrenaline, keep the tank full, and whatever you do – think twice before you grab that CB receiver. The voice on the other end is closer than you think.


Three different versions of the ending were shot.

Eric Stoltz and Eric Roberts auditioned for the role of “Rusty Nail”.

Leelee Sobieski ended up filming two different romantic interludes, one with Steve Zahnand one with Paul Walker during the shooting and re-shooting of the film. Both scenes ended up getting cut.