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Confessions of a Cinephile: SHORTCUT (2020)

Hello all and welcome to Confessions of a Cinephile. I was honored when Philip Perron invited me to produce content here for the Dark Discussions Network. This will be a little area where I will share reviews of films and other pieces to dig a bit deeper into the genre that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember horror. This also allows me though to branch out a bit, in the vein of the flagship podcast, into darker themed content that might not necessarily fall in the genre as well.

If you don’t me, my name is David Garrett Jr. I’m originally from Michigan, went to Ohio State University for English and film studies. In a round about way, I left after school and found my way back to Columbus, Ohio where I currently reside.

Something that I lucked into was moving back close to the Gateway Film Center. It is a non-profit theater that loves to show older, classic and cult horror films, but they also do an amazing job featuring independent cinema. I do want this column here to feature as much as I can to showcase, both good and bad, films that I’ve been able to catch there. This first confession I’m giving here is going to be for one of those films.

Film: Shortcut
Year: 2020
Director: Alessio Liguori
Writer: Daniele Cosci
Starring: Jack Kane, Andrei Claude and Zak Sutcliffe

Review:

This was a movie that I only heard about I went to the Gateway Film Center to blindly see a movie and this trailer played. I did my best to not watch it, but could see that it was a creature feature and the premise caught my interest. The following weekend, it was playing so I made it a point to see and another perk in giving me another 2020 watch. The synopsis is a group of five classmates is trapped inside their school bus after a mysterious creature invades the road. Time runs and every passing minute decrease their survival chances against the constant threats of that unknown entity.

We kick this movie off in the woods where we see someone running. They end up stopping and if memory serves, they drop to their knees. The credits are then shown giving us drawings of a creepy looking monster. It then cuts over to a Fiat bus. It is driven by Joseph (Terence Anderson) and on it are a bunch of kids. There is Nolan (Jack Kane) who seems to have a crush on a girl who is sitting across from him of Bess (Sophie Jane Oliver). She is keeping to herself for most of this opening sequence. Also there is Karl (Zander Emlano) who is a heavier kid that is constantly making jokes. He is sitting with the smart kid of Queenie (Molly Dew). Sitting in the far back, away from everyone else is Reggie (Zak Sutcliffe). He has a leather jacket and a punk hair cut with piercings. Despite the standoffish attitude he gives, he gets along well enough with the others.

The bus ends up coming to a bunch of trees blocking the road. Joseph looks bothered and decides to back up to take another path. As it goes, we see off to the side of the road is a sign. It is no longer standing up and it states something about a military base up ahead. They also come up on a dead deer. Joseph goes to move it and we meet another character, Pedro Minghella (David Keyes). He holds Joseph at gunpoint and makes him get back on the bus. He forces them to continue on. It should also be pointed out that we get a flashback where Karl is talking to Chris (Andrei Claude), who appears to be a cop. Pedro escaped from prison and is popular for eating the tongues of his victims.

As they approach a long tunnel, the bus dies. Pedro is irate and commands Joseph to fix it. While they are outside, the teens try to figure out a way to get the gun from Pedro. The lights in the tunnel go out and we hear a horrible screeching. Both men get back on the bus and Pedro has Joseph check out what made that sound. There seems to be a creature that in the darkness. At the moment, it has them trapped in the bus. Nearby is a stone catacomb where we learn more about this creature known as the Night Wanderer (Matteo De Gregori) and the approaching lunar eclipse might have something in common with it.

That’s where I want to leave my recap of the movie and now that you’re up to speed, let me dive into this movie. I think it has an interesting set up. It does feel a bit like Jeepers Creepers 2 in that we get a bit where they are trapped on this bus. The movie does a really good job in my opinion of setting this scenario up. We get that short cold open, we get to know these characters a bit before getting into them being trapped. It even introduces some cool things with the talk of the upcoming lunar eclipse.

Where I think this movie struggles though is that despite all it introduces, it doesn’t go far enough into any of them. As I said, we learn about the lunar eclipse which is supposed to happen every 20 years. We learn that there is a diary being kept by a guy who became obsessed with what he dubbed the Night Wanderer. That gave me more of the Jeepers Creepers vibe where it hunts periodically and having an ‘expert’ on it. This never goes anywhere aside from this though. I’ll get more into the creature next, but before moving off of this point, we learn about the depravity of Pedro, this doesn’t go anywhere either. Some of the flashbacks and a quick dream sequence introduce things, but that seems almost like filler as well. It seems like there were good ideas, but all of them were used without exploring them enough.

To move back to a positive is the look of the creature. Early on, we only get glimpses and that is mostly hidden by shadows. I was starting to think that is what we were going to get of it, but then the movie decides to let us see much more. This is not a misstep. The creature is practical and looks amazing. It has razor sharp fangs and creepy in general. We also get the idea that it has the ability to effective things running on electricity, which is fitting as it is affected by bright light. I will give credit to the rest of the effects as they were good in that regard as well. The problem that comes from this though is the movie doesn’t necessarily know what it wants to be.

What I mean here is that there isn’t enough action with the creature constantly menacing them. We do get a bit of that where it attacks characters periodically. We also don’t get enough research to learn about the creature. It felt like it wanted to do both, without giving us enough of either for me to fully be in it. Therefore it did make it boring. An example here as well would be it is introduced that this creature lives off the blood and fluids like a vampire or a leech. Someone then states that it is a parasite. This is the end of that. I don’t necessarily need everything fleshed out. I just need more of one or the other.

The acting was alright. I don’t even necessarily think that any of the performances were bad. They all portray their character archetypes well enough. Kane is our hero, but he’s shy to start so we need him to find that confidence to grow into that role. Sutcliffe is that punk who is rough around the edges. I think he’s too friendly in the beginning though for this to fully work. Emlano is there for more comedic value, but I don’t think he does enough there to be honest. Oliver is poorly written though. She is the love of our lead, but she’s never really in peril from what I remember and I don’t think she really has a place aside from that. The same for Dew in that she’s supposed to be our intelligent character, but I don’t think that ever comes up during our tense times so it is a missed step. I figured she would flesh out an idea to help them defeat this, but we don’t get that. Keyes has an interesting back-story that goes nowhere. Anderson is fine and the rest the cast is okay. They aren’t written in a way to really help in my opinion.

Before I close this out, I did have one last thing I really wanted to give credit to. The setting is really good. As far as I can recall, we really don’t know why they’re traveling like they are. They don’t seem like bad kids, so that’s out of the question. Regardless, I love the idea of them being stranded out in the middle of nowhere. It is creepy and it gives it that contained feel that I like. The soundtrack is really well done as well. It helps to build the tension and fit for what they needed.

Now with that said, this movie is disappointing to me due to some of things it has going for it. We have a really good setting. Part of the tension comes from them being isolated. You couple this with a great looking creature and you already have a recipe for a good horror movie. There’s even a soundtrack that really fit and would hook me in. The problem is that I don’t think the screenplay was fleshed out enough. There are aspects that are introduced and then never go anywhere. There either needed to be more discovery of the creature or more action to really give us a movie that wouldn’t be boring. I also think the acting is hurt by this as well. The performances themselves aren’t bad, but just don’t have enough for where it is going. That is why I’m rating this as just slightly over average. Technically this movie is really good, but there are just a lot of missteps that force the score down for me.

My Rating: 5.5 out of 10

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