You can’t even really call “Riding the Bullet” a horror film, when all is said and done. Like most of Stephen King’s semi-autobiographical tales, Mick Garris’ adaptation is a contemplation on mortality and nostalgia from a more innocent time. “Riding the Bullet” is less about scaring, and is more focused on a selfish stoner, with an Oedipus complex and a fixation on death. And King conveys his fear of death by trying to dig in to the audience’s fear of death. I imagine the character in “Riding the Bullet” is closer to King than any other story he’s ever written, but that’s merely an assumption on my part. “Riding the Bullet” has interesting intent and good performances, but it’s more a tragedy bereft of scares.
Once you realize the entire atmosphere is merely just clunky symbolism for death and fear of dying, the mystique and fangs of the movie are immediately taken out. Every aspect of the narrative conveys some idea about growing old and or dying alone; there’s even a really goofy moment when Alan hides from a group of rednecks by encasing himself in a fridge that obviously resembles a coffin. Set during Halloween of 1969, Alan is a young college student who is faced with a changing political climate including the draft, and has a turbulent relationship with his girlfriend Jessica (Erika Christensen is lovely but lacking a purpose). He’s a closed off individual who is brilliant at art, but is obsessed with death. This stems from the mysterious circumstances involving his own father’s death, which his mother has kept vague since he was a child.
When Jessica decides she wants to break up with Alan, Alan opts to commit suicide in his bath tub. Circumstances change with Jessica, but his botched suicide attempt lands him in the hospital. When he receives word of his mother landing in the hospital from a horrible stroke, Alan ventures out to see her before she dies, and gets much more on his trip than he realizes. “Riding the Bullet” is a mostly middling and silly effort that doesn’t really succeed in touching on our fear of mortality and losing our dignity as we age. It instead seems to exploit those fears for horror movie fodder and can never decide on dark comedy, camp, or pure horror. When I picture the manifestation of death, David Arquette is the last person that comes to mind. “Riding the Bullet” is a very sub-par series of clunky ideas about mortality, none of which amount to a decent horror film.