In a lot of ways Shortcut feels like a streamlined version of It where a group of young teenagers have to confront a killing terror that thrives on fear. While there’s no red balloons or clowns, Shortcut effectively mines the inherent uneasiness of children fighting for their lives in a cramped space.
The first act is somewhat rough as Director Alessio Liguori utilizes copious amounts of overhead shots to show the students traveling in a school bus venturing into the woods. Add in a booming score that’s more obnoxious than ominous and the film starts off off shaky.
Bus driver Joe (Terence Anderson) seems to be getting paid by the minute as he takes the absolute longest path to getting the five students home. Five is such a randomly small number of students anyway and restricts the amount of potential victims.
The students are fairly stock and only briefly developed. Reggie (Zak Sutcliffe) is the edgy one thanks to his father being away in prison for the last two years. Bess (Sophie Jane Oliver) is the average semi-popular and cute student that has an admirer in Nolan (Jack Kane). Karl (Zander Emlano) is the slightly overweight comic relief and Queenie (Molly Dew) is the smart one.
Screenwriter Daniele Cosci brings in another element with a serial killer who hijacks the bus, but that doesn’t prove very effective in heightening the tension either.
It’s not until the bus travels into a tunnel where the lights mysteriously go out that Shortcut begins to find its path. Shortcut loses some points with me by following the old horror movie cliche despite being completely unnecessary in this instance.
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That something that went bump in the night is actually a formidable killer. After the survivors realize the bus isn’t going to offer much protection since the creature is capable of opening doors, they head down to the utility tunnels underground.
The creature design looks very similar to the main villain in Krull and sounds like The Ring Wraiths in The Lord of the Rings. While it doesn’t earn many points for originality, it does look appropriately menacing.
Liguori seems to find a better sense of how to proceed at this point setting Shortcut up more like a cat and mouse horror thriller. Cosci’s screenplay actively avoids making the students stupid. When Queenie needs a bathroom break she asks one of the boys to accompany her for example.
Eventually the students realize they’re not the only ones that have confronted the beast before as a man obsessed with killing it set up shop in the tunnels earlier. That subplot needed a better payoff than the underwhelming one shown for all the buildup, but it does provide some context and helps prepare the student for a final test that will prove fatal if they flunk.
Shortcut works best due to the strength of its younger cast. They have somewhat of a Goonies vibe if Sloth were a killer and the lighting were at a minimal. With a stronger opening act and better setup for the confrontation with the creature, the film would have been even more effective. As a drive-in or VOD option, there’s enough here to warrant the trip.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo Credit: Gravitas Ventures