October 23, 2008

DVD Review: Rest Stop - Don't Look Back

The title is not all that clever. What you should take away from the subtitle is "If you see this on the shelf, keep walking - Don't Look Back." Seriously, this is not a very good film. If there is something positive to take away, it is the fact it has some strong scenes, but they generally are good as stand alone pieces, do not look for a way to link them all together in any logical fashion. There is also a requirement that you have seen the first film, if you haven't you will likely be scratching your head in short order.

The movie starts at some unspecified point in the past, prior to the events of the first Rest Stop. A Winnebago is driving down a lonely stretch of road, stopping when they see a man stranded along the side of the road. He is standing next to an old, beat up yellow pickup tuck with the license plate KZL-303 (hope you saw the first film), the hood is up and a gas can sits next to him on the hot asphalt. Inside the Winnebago is a quirky family, first introduced in that first entry. It does not take long to realize we are seeing the birth of our killer. Does it explain everything? Not really. For that matter, it does not explain all that much at all, only serving to setup an element that is never truly paid off.

Jump to the present and we are introduced to Tom (Richard Tillman), a Corporal in the US Army home on leave. He also happens to be the brother of Jesse (Joey Mendicino), who is the boyfriend of Nicole (Julie Mond). I you don't remember, Jesse and Nicole was the couple from the first film who get trapped by the truck driver in the first movie.

Tom does not want to believe that his brother is gone, deciding to use his leave to take the trek towards California in an attempt to do what, presumably, no one else (law enforcement or otherwise) has been able to do, find Jesse. Off he goes, with his girlfriend, Marilyn (Jessie Ward), and nerdy friend (who has an infatuation with Nicole), Jared (Graham Norris), who latches on with his own car in tow.

They drive and they drive, until they stop by a gas station where the creepy attendant points them towards the "old highway" where a rest stop, the rest stop, is located. So, the trio head off, but on the way there Jared peels off to use a porto-john, saying he will meet up with them at the rest stop.

Yes, you read that right, Jared stops to use the bathroom while on the way to a rest stop. No, it does not make any sense to me either. Back to the story.

No sooner have the left the creepy little gas station, they enter the truck driver's zone and like any good ghost movie, our intrepid band is screwed. What? You didn't know this was a ghost story? Well, it is. Sort of. The thought process began in the first movie with a disappearing girl who vomits blood, as well as evidence pointing towards travelers being victimized for years.

Anyway, the rest stop makes its first appearance and the world begins to unravel. It becomes a rehash of the first film, with our heroes being stalked by the truck driver. They also begin to have visions of Nicole and others. Now, these visions are the sort that can be interacted with until the plot determines they need to go away. We also get another appearance by the creepy family, plus some nonsense about burning eyes so that a trapped soul can move on to the next stage of existence.

Rest Stop: Don't Look Back is a movie that I get. I understand the flow and what they were attempting to do, but on the other side of the coin it is such complete nonsense. It is sort of like Jason Goes to Hell, where there are interesting ideas at play that just do not jive to well within the film nor the film(s) that came before. It tries to do so much by introducing more ghost elements, the gas station attendant, the supposed origin of the trucker and the ties to the family, the even deeper meaning of the eyes, and more. It just fails to gel in the final run.

The origin of the driver does not really explain anything, nor do his interactions with the family, and what does the bus have to do with anything? I am not the sort of person who needs to have his movies explained, and I get the basic flow here, but there needs to be more evidence to tie it all together. As it stands, you can pretty much write what you want to fill in the blanks and not have much to deny it as a possibility.

As for the screenplay, it is not all that good. It does not want to present the characters with any degree of intelligence. Their survival skills are even less than mine, and when it comes to stating the obvious, they don't say anything. Take Jared's experience with Nicole, if this was any sort of reality, he would not act the way he does and when he meets back up with Marilyn he waits to say anything about his ghostly indiscretions. These are just examples of character stupidity throughout.

John Shiban, who wrote and directed the first film, returns to pen the script for the sequel while Shawn Papazian takes of directorial duties. Both films are similar in tone and look, this definitely looks like a sequel. It is frustrating as there are elements to like, but they are hampered by a story that tries hard to be epic and winds up disjointed and sloppy.

Audio/Video. The production values are quite good for this direct to video release. The 1.85:1 widescreen video is clear, crisp, and just looks good while the 5.1 audio does a fine job of delivering the soundtrack.

Extras. This Raw Feed release has a couple of decent extras.
  • Commentary. The commentary track features John Shiban and Shawn Papazian. It is an all right track as they relate shooting notes, story notes, and what they were trying to do. They also hinted at a possible third film.
  • Doomed to Repeat: The Mythology of Rest Stop. This is a brief and fluffy featurette that does not really dive into the mythology too deeply, rather telling us that there is one and they are building on the prior film.
  • Alternate Ending. This is inferior to the one they actually used, and features Tom getting home and being greeted by a surprise.
  • Deleted Scenes. We get about ten minutes of cut scenes that would not have added much to the feature, defining the reason to have deleted scenes.
  • Raw Feed Trailers. A few trailers are included: Rest Stop, Sublime, Believers, Otis. Alien Raiders, and of course Rest Stop: Don't Look Back.
Bottomline. For a film that is as narratively suspect and devoid of genuine character, there are scenes that are entertaining and the film keeps the pace up, so while you may not like it you won't be bored. There is some decent gore, a little bit of tension, and a better than it should be score by Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica). Still, I would not recommend this unless you were in a pinch and needed a horror fix.

Not Recommended.


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