Of the small handful of feature films that have been rolled out in theaters and drive-ins in recent weeks, Shortcut (which opens today in about 600 theaters and drive-ins across the US) is one that feels especially apropos for a big-screen viewing (barring the minor caveat of a global pandemic, of course). Glass half-empty: It won’t exactly bowl anyone over with its innovation. Glass half-full: It’s the kind of likable, entertaining, pretense-free horror movie that’d go down like gangbusters in a theater.
It’s a high-concept setup if ever there was one. Five English teenagers on a bus trek in a European forest find their jaunt hijacked by an escaped serial killer (David Keyes). En route to said killer’s destination, the bus winds up in a tunnel, where a hairy, snarling monster waits in the shadows to make short work of unsuspecting visitors. It doesn’t take Holmesian deductive skills to ascertain where the film goes from there.
Anyone with a passing interest in genre film will have no trouble playing spot-the-influence here, with screenwriter Daniele Cosci checking off a lot of familiar boxes. The disparate young principals are essentially a Brit-accented Breakfast Club, going through a rather It Chapter 1-flavored adventure, augmented by a dollop of Stranger Things and a pinch of The Descent. And Shortcut dutifully trots out a laundry list of horror tropes, including some less than welcome ones: In a development that’s only a spoiler if you’re completely horror-illiterate, the black guy dies first.
Derivative spots and trope-y missteps aside, though, the end result still manages to be a surprisingly good time. Director Alessio Liguori delivers the jumps with verve and confidence. The practical-effects-based beast menacing the cast is pretty damned cool. And if the quintet of kids at the center of the mayhem represents a cross-section of clichés, they’re also such a lovable, natural ensemble that you kinda don’t care. Shortcut may not be great art, or even great horror, but there’s fun to be had here if you keep your expectations in check—and a tub of popcorn at the ready.
Shortcut opens in theaters today (the venue closest to Seattle looks to be the Riverside Cinema in Aberdeen), and arrives on VOD/On Demand December 22.