review by Diablo Joe
When you pick the well-tread horror plot pathway of a small group of teens terrorized by a crazed killer, you better find an interesting way to stake your claim to the ground you’re treading. Let’s say you have a small group of students out on a bus trip that takes them through the woods. A rigged obstacle forces them to take an alternate route and allowing an escaped serial killer to board their vehicle and proceed to terrify them. So begins “Shortcut.” But then, things change as the kids realize the con is not their biggest worry. There is something larger, nastier, and far harder to stop lurking in the darkness.
“Shortcut” starts off in a fairly rote manner but with a flair suggesting interesting things to come. The five kids might be a bit familiar but individually drawn. Their bus driver is a jovial, likable fellow. The serial killer is colorful and malevolent. So, the question remains why squander this promise once the picture introduces its demonic monster into the mix? “Shortcut” quickly becomes a series of convenient plot points and ever-less impressive scares, and its characters become triter and more irritating as the film proceeds.
The teens’ fight for survival is meant to double as a rite of passage. But the teens become more caricatured rather than developed. Making their way deeper into a mysterious catacombs, they conveniently find maps and a roomful of handy candles to light their refuge. It’s a prime example of the crime of telling and not showing. As the group uncovers news clippings and journals, they immediately make some pretty definitive conclusions about the monster, requiring little insight of these teens or the movie’s audience.
“Shortcut” is a film on a budget but could have better utilized the production values it has. As far as actors, the young cast shows promise. But these poorly-written roles are hard to overcome, no matter their skill. The film’s two adult characters are excellent, as are the actors playing them, but sadly exit the movie early on. If only the creativity invested in those two had spread to our leads. And it’s an overall good-looking film, well photographed and with art direction nicely augmenting the film's subterranean location. It’s suitably moody and atmospheric.
But its cinematography and production design join script, direction, and editing to fail what needed to be the film’s most important asset. The creature of “Shortcut” is less than terrifying. Its initial appearance is promising, while it remains a thing of mystery. When the filmmakers insist on showing us more, we see that we’re facing a nicely animated mask and pair of hands and not much else. Perhaps they wanted to make their effects investment shown. It would have been a smarter decision to leave it in the darkness. The script doesn’t help either. The threat diminishes as the creature goes from brutally killing its victims to toying with them. Stakes lessen, and the film suffers significantly as a result. Supposedly tied to the lunar eclipse cycle, the thing’s origins are another case of the movie telling us this detail over illustrating it. When the group finally dispatches the creature, it's via a method that was always available to them. It’s underwhelming, as has been our monster.
A victim of a script dependent upon flashbacks and convenient exposition, “Shortcut” might have been a much scarier picture if it had pulled back a bit. Sometimes, just sticking to the basics works because it only works. The film tries to be clever, with a more profound message about personal growth, friendships, and working together. In the process, “Shortcut” forgets to be terrifying.
This devil of a reviewer gives “Shortcut” 2 out of 5 imps.
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