Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Shortcut: Taking Another Wrong Turn in a Horror Movie

Horror movies clearly teach us to be cautious drivers. Always stay on the main roads and if you break down, stay in the car and call AAA. Unfortunately, a school bus driver takes an ill-advised detour that inevitably ends badly for him and his passengers in Alessio Liguori’s Shortcut, which releases today on VOD.

With five social misfits aboard, it is like he is shuttling the Breakfast Club. It is never clear just where he is taking them and why they must go through the middle of nowhere, but at least everyone has plenty of room on the coach (as they call it in the UK). Regardless, Joseph the driver makes a very bad decision when he takes a detour to avoid a fallen tree suspiciously blocking the road. He makes an even worse decision when he gets out of the coach to clear an animal carcass. That provides the opening for the notorious “Tongue Eater” serial-killer to take them hostage.

That’s bad, but the situation gets even more dire when a vaguely bat-like creature starts preying on them. On the plus side, the film picks up a bit once the kids ditch their adult supervision (such as it was) and regroup in an abandoned network of service tunnels. Weirdly, the one-sheet and copy emphasize the coach, but those scenes really feel like they drag (and
Diablo Royo PTY did the horror-on-the-bus thing with so much more flair). In contrast, there is some creepy set and design work to be found in those lower levels.

Still, it isn’t like
Shortcut ever turns into anything particularly special. It is nice to see how screenwriter Daniele Cosci has the kids coalesce into a team during the second half, but they are never given very distinctive personalities to begin with. We have the brainy girl, the slobby dude, the punk with secret pain, the nice girl, and, um, the nice guy. The young cast are all competent in their roles—they just don’t have anything memorable to work with.

Frankly, Terence Anderson probably makes the strongest impression as the fatherly coach driver. David Keyes is appropriately wild-eyed as Tongue Eater and Mino Capri is sufficiently haunted-looking as the creature’s late nemesis, whose journal (depicted in flashbacks) provides the kids some crucial explanations.

The creature looks pretty good in
Shortcut, which is admittedly a really big “oh, by the way,” for a movie like this. On the other hand, it is the wrong kind of funny when we see an Italian ItalPol rent-a-cop car passing for a British police cruiser. Nevertheless, the youthful empowerment works enough that we can easily see this becoming a sentimental favorite of middle school horror fans, who haven’t seen a lot of the modern classics yet. Just sort of okay for the rest of us, Shortcut releases today (12/22) on VOD.