What would happen if you were to blend components of Stranger Things and The Descent together? Chances are you’d get something similar to Shortcut by Alessio Liguori, if you also happened to add in shoddier acting and a wavering storyline.
Shortcut follows a group of five teens on a school bus that takes—wait for it—a shortcut onto a wooded abandoned road because the paved road is blocked with trees. A stranger with a gun hijacks the bus, and a series of unfortunate events follow involving unknown monsters.
The movie leaves us with a lot of questions that are unanswered. Why does the bus driver choose to drive down a sketchy dirt road instead of turning around? One of the young actors suggests turning around, and yet the bus driver decides the eerie path is safer. Sometimes characters do things a sensible human would never do in horror movies, and this is a prime example. Call me crazy, but if I had the lives of five minors in my hands, I would turn around. Going off of that point: where are they driving to in the middle of nowhere? There are numerous aerial shots of the bus traversing a single road in a hilly area with no houses in sight. These are gorgeous to watch, but do these kids live in remote cottages in the woods? Somehow I doubt there are many teenagers with trendy clothes and septum piercings in the forests.
The movie’s visuals are what stand out and keeps viewers entertained to a point. Attention-grabbing camera angles, dingy-colored shots with bright bursts of color, and timeless horror-style wide shots are all utilized. Specifically, shots with the vivid red bus, or the opening scene showing bright yellow against an all-green forest are eye-catching. The cinematography of the film may be its best feature.
Shortcut is a film debut for two of the young actors, with Molly Dew as Queenie and Sophie Jane Oliver as Bess. The other three teen actors have been in films before, but it is the first time they have earned lead roles, with the exception of Zak Sutcliffe who played Peter Pan in the TV movie Peter and Wendy in 2015. Some of the adult actors have a more seasoned career. Some may recognize Terence Anderson, who plays the bus driver Joseph, from small cameos in Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Captain Phillips. Andrei Claude occupies a small part of the film as well. Claude has been representing recurring character Ganbaatar on the TV series Vikings and additionally portrayed Khal Rhalko in Game of Thrones.
Nevertheless, the acting leaves something to be desired all-around. The five lead actors have little chemistry, despite attempts at establishing bonds. The movie doesn’t offer a chance for viewers to become invested in the characters either. Many of them blend together, their names are barely spoken, and you may not worry if they are going to survive or not. A particular letdown is when David Keyes, playing Pedro Minghella, delivers more laughs than screams, yet he is playing the role of a fearsome maniac.
The plot is also scattered and ever changing. When you think you’ve pinned down what kind of movie you’re watching, it decides it wants to be something entirely different. There have been horror films that do this and leave viewers even more intrigued, such as Ari Aster’s Midsommar. Shortcut, however, switches gears haphazardly, which doesn’t help us connect to the characters or become enthralled in the storyline.
From the horror standpoint, there are minimal scares. The movie is more campy than disturbing. The amount of blood is also lackluster, being that there are only small smears on the actors once or twice. However, there are certainly horror elements to consider this film part of the genre. Most of those elements are sound based, as the film exploits screams and chilling non-human noises that may inspire a jump or two from squeamish viewers.
You may catch yourself wondering if the motion picture is almost over, despite it being shorter than most. Clocking in at 72 minutes long, not including the credits, it feels like it may be closer to two hours. I found myself checking how much I had watched at one point, only to realize I was only 46 minutes deep. One chunk of the movie shows the young actors hanging out in a tunnel amid the chaos that’s ensuing, which drags on and removes viewers from the scared mindset for a few minutes.
The Italy-made film hits drive-in theatres across America on Sept. 25. The fun atmosphere that goes hand-in-hand with attending a drive-in movie may make it more entertaining. If nothing else, the striking cinematography will be unmistakable on the big screen.