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‘Shortcut’ Runs Out of Gas … Fast

This creature feature gets creatively lost in the woods and never finds its way back

Sometimes a horror film flashes its excellence in the first act, or even the opening scene.

“Get Out” began with such a bold and brilliant sequence horror fans knew they were in for a treat. The more recent “Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight” uncorked a similarly strong opening.

So it’s odd that “Shortcut,” a tight and messy shocker, starts strong before falling off the entertaining cliff. The second and third acts are as unappealing as the first one is beguiling.

Shortcut - Official Trailer by Film&Clips

The set up is simple and direct. A small group of high schoolers is heading somewhere on a bright, shiny bus (one of several production design touches that suggest a superior grindhouse effort).

A pair of interruptions, one with life-threatening implications, derails their trip. Neither is as deadly as what comes next. They run into a creature which stalks them from outside the bus.

The stage is set. The teen characters are distinct enough to resonate -- barely. The tense early scenes suggest a protracted fight to the death. And then director Alessio Liguori starts pulling his punches.

  • The creature has an easily exploited weakness
  • A detour into nearby catacombs isn’t spooky or well thought out
  • A back story suggesting an early victim of the beast is a colossal snooze

Let’s be blunt. The film’s sly promise and tight opening give way to a complete dud of a shocker. Even worse? The direction makes it hard to see who’s in peril or even how those catacombs play out. Time and time again our young heroes seem doomed but escape through confusing means.

Horror movies thrive in the dark -- think “The Descent,” for starters. Visual clarity still matters.

The young actors are all game for the genre romp, even if theyr’e given little to do beyond reaction shots. The early high school tension between them is mostly abandoned. So, too, is the notion that this creature is worthy of our nightmares.

Don’t tell that to the team behind the movie, which wraps the film with a nonsensical sequel bid. That, plus the daffy narration that brings the film to a close suggest the filmmakers had no idea what a rough and tumble genre entry should look like.

HiT or Miss: Slick production details and a crisp first act can’t paper over “Shortcut’s” flaws.

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