October 11, 2006

DVD Review: Rest Stop

Warner Brothers is expanding their branding by starting the Raw Feed branch.This new arm of the Warner empire will focus on horror, science fiction, and thriller genres. They will be direct to DVD releases, with Rest Stop being their initial offering. At the moment there are no other titles announced for the label, but one will hope for the best as they work on getting Raw Feed off the ground.

Rest Stop is a gritty little horror thriller that tries to do a little too much with too little. It is an interesting exercise, dabbling in the current trend of torture films, tossed with a little old school slasher style, and just a touch of the psychological. Unfortunately, the final concoction was taken out of the oven too soon, leaving it undercooked and deflated. Still, there is something about it that I did enjoy, just not enough to recommend.

We start with a young woman making use of rest stop facilities, she is decked out in the fashion of the 1970's while music reminiscent of the era plays in the background. Before long, a figure clomps into the bathroom, much to the protestation of the woman in the stall. Her fears turn into reality as the man attacks her and drags her off. And so begins the terror of the Rest Stop.

The story proper kicks off with Nicole sneaking out of her parents house and running off with her boyfriend, Jesse. The lovestruck couple set off on a trip to California, chasing the stars in their eyes, and escaping their home of Texas. Before long, the couple have a run in with the driver of an old yellow pickup truck, setting up the horror of what is to come. Nicole needs to make a pit stop, so Jesse pulls over at one of the dirtiest, most disgusting rest stops you're likely to see, I would have braved it out on the dirt rather than use this thing. She comes out to find Jesse and their car missing, and herself being stalked by the man in the pickup.

What follows is the usual survival horror fare. The girl must survive the night, while being pursued by evil incarnate, with a little help along the way from the occasional visitor. It starts off a little slow, but once the initial post-Jesse disappearance encounter occurs the speed starts to pick up. Shortly after that the blood begins to flow. That is one of the more refreshing aspects of the movie, I always enjoy a little blood with my movies.

Rest Stop is one of those movies that has more going on than would be expected, but the script does not dive deep enough into those things. Writer/director John Shiban tosses out some interesting nuggets of psychological horror, but they are so poorly executed that it comes off as confusing nonsense. I can understand the need to dance around some of these things so as not to just spell it all out, leaving some ambiguity, but come on. Things happen, people appear, people disappear, people die, and other things that will leave you scratching your head as to whether or not they really happened. It is like Shiban had a lot of things getting jumbled in his head during the writing process, but the connective tissue was lost in the translation from his brain to the keyboard, leaving out all the elements that would have brought them together. Kind of like making an omelette and forgetting the eggs, then swearing a lot, hooping that would make up for the missing ingredient.

Adding insult to injury, the acting was pretty bad, and it doesn't help that the characters are not all that likable. Nicole really doesn't do anything to make me care about her, she is just an annoying little kid who is running away for some unknown reason, and has a generally bad attitude. She is played by Jaimie Alexander, who just doesn't have control of the character, her scenes where she is crying and freaking out just don't seem real. She whimpers in these dry heaves that is more annoying than anything else, and she talks about things that I don't believe anyone in this situation would, like all of the personal demon stuff. It just strikes me as being out of place. Still, despite the poor acting from our lead, the rest of the cast is decent enough, filling a couple of odd ball roles.

I also would have liked a few more locations, the vast majority of the action takes place at the rest stop. We get a brief glimpse of the killers workshop on an old schoolbus, complete with a full supply of torture implements. We even get to see a bit of his handiwork, if only we could have gotten some more.

The biggest problem are some of the psychological elements, and the true nature of our killer. The impression is given that Nicole is losing her mind, with some of the people she encounters, and the events around them. It is also implied that our killer is something more than human, as evidenced by the messages on the bathroom walls. The more I think about it, the more maddening I find it to be. Is there a connection between the killer and family on the RV? There has to be something, or else those crazies do not serve any real purpose here.

In the end, I did like the blood and the grimy dirty atmosphere that is created. However, the lack of logic, poor acting, and weak script all hold the movie back from being something to truly recommend. Sure, I have seen much worse from the genre, this is far from the worst I have spent time on. In fact, as far as direct to DVD horror films go, this is actually halfway decent, I just hope that John Shiban puts a little more time into his writing his next time out.

Audio/Video. The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds pretty good. Dialogue is nice and clear, and the soundtrack, which I really liked, is well represented. The video is widescreen anamorphic, with a ratio of 1.85:1. It has a nice, gritty look highlighted by a washed out color palette. It well represents the source material.

Extras. Sadly, no commentary or in depth featurettes to be found.
  • 3 Alternate Endings. There are three different takes on the ending, all very similar to each other, but also quite different from how the movie actually ended. I happen to think the ending used was probably the best choice, even if it continued the theme of logic lacking exhibited throughout the film.
  • Crime Scene Photos. This is a series of photos taken on the killer's bus, images of his victims, and the unspeakable things that he did to them.
  • Scotty's Video Expose. Scotty was one of the kids on the RV, a deformed little person who liked to use a video camera. This runs for a few minutes and gives a glimpse into his tortured life, and their encounter with the Killer.
  • Trailer. The trailer isn't half bad, but I did find it funny how they claim the film was too disturbing for the big screen.

Bottomline. Raw Feed makes a decent debut with this highly flawed, but watchable horror flick. If you shut down when you watch it, you may actually like it. Whatever you do, do not try to make too much sense of what happens, you will only end up with a headache.

Mildly Recommended.

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