Shortcut is utterly devoid of originality or scares. Alessio Liguori’s by-the-numbers horror-thriller does, indeed, take the easiest route by avoiding any nuance, sidestepping intricate character development, and resorting to the cheapest shock tactics in the book. When a filmmaker decides to go with a bare-bones, basic premise – in this case, a bunch of irritating teens being stalked by a ghoul in the middle of nowhere – they have to demonstrate technical savvy and emotional depth to counterbalance the predictable plot. Liguori seems to have sleepwalked through this one. It’s not all terrible, as the film looks crisp enough, and some moments manage to shine through the murk. Yet you’ll be better off bypassing this Shortcut.
In the spirit of its title and approach to storytelling, I’ll summarize the plot as briefly as possible, so we can skip to the ending. A group of five British classmates is taken through a serene Italian countryside in a shiny red 1950’s-era bus by their riddle-telling driver. (The disparity of these elements is never touched upon, by the way – are they on a field trip? Why only five? Why is the bus so damn slow? – just go with it, I guess.) An animal’s dead carcass blocks the road, which ends up being a trap set by escaped prisoner Pedro, aka The Tongue Eater (David Keyes, hamming it up so hard he’s on the verge of oinking). The Tongue Eater takes them hostage until the bus breaks down in a dark and scary tunnel.
“The Tongue Eater takes them hostage…[then] a beast promptly starts to pick them off…”
This is where a beast promptly starts to pick them off, starting with… nah, I don’t want to ruin the disappointment for those of you bored enough to give Shortcut a shot. Spoiler alert: they all die in the end. Just kiddin’ (or am I?). I will say that some of them eventually escape from the bus and hide in the tunnel. This group of doofuses ends up looking for a control room, stumbling on a somewhat complex and ludicrous sub-plot on the way, involving a man who’s dedicated his life to researching the creature.
Aside from Luca Santagostino’s camerawork, some intermittently decent tension-building, and Benjamin Kwasi Burrell’s score that meshes 1980s electronica with operatic interludes (think John Carpenter meets Hans Zimmer), there really isn’t much here to write home about. The creature looks awful – I presume, due to budgetary constraints – and Liguori would have been better off keeping it out of sight for most of the running time. Cheesy, awkward dialogue riddles the narrative; truisms like “If we work as a team, we’ll probably make it out of here alive,” or “We can only do this if we’re all together.” The cast chews scenery, and most attempts at humor fall flat. The fact that the characters are impossible to root for doesn’t help things: there’s the stereotypical bully, the pudgy boy, the potential lovebirds, and the nerd.
Attack the Block this is not. Shortcut is too violent and foul-mouthed for kids, yet too tame and juvenile for adults, bound to leave horror aficionados indifferent. You’ll be better off watching Jeepers Creepers 2 instead, and that’s really saying something.
"…too violent and foul-mouthed for kids, yet too tame and juvenile for adults..."