It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Road to Nowhere" plays like an exercise in frustrating audiences. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle where you assemble as many pieces as seem to fit, but have gaps and pieces left over. One of the pleasures of puzzle films is that we understand, or at least sense, the underlying pattern of their solution. Here is a film that seems indifferent to that satisfaction.
It marks the first film in 21 years by the cult legend Monte Hellman, whose "Two-Lane Blacktop" (1971) offers less determined frustrations. Clarity of narrative is unimportant in both films. They're more about their own making. It is one thing for a director to express his vision, and another thing for him to make a film about it, especially a fragmented film. "Two-Lane Blacktop" at least followed linear, if enigmatic and unexplained, characters. "The Road to Nowhere" keeps pulling the rug out from under the characters' feet.
The film opens with a shot of a DVD being loaded. The DVD is titled "Road to Nowhere." So therefore this film exists outside another film of the same name. We are seeing a film about the film. The "inner" film is being made by a director named Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan), who has the same initials as Monte Hellman. So is the outer film about the making of the inner one, or are the two films simply not synched in time and space? And for that matter is there a third level, a "reality," that neither film completely reflects?
We see Haven working with an actress named Laurel Graham (Shannyn Sossamon), who he has discovered and persuaded to play her role. She doesn't think of herself as an actress. Perhaps Haven doesn't care. He spends a great deal of time in earnest discussions with her that men use to impress their importance upon women. These often take the form of wise teacher and attentive student.