Warner Bros. // 2006 // 85 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 23rd, 2006
The first stop on the road to Hell.
The debut horror film from Raw Feed is a thriller to be reckoned with.
Nicole (Jaime Alexander) and her boyfriend Jess (Joey Mendicino) are headed to Hollywood, with Jess following his long-time dream of hitting it big as an actor. The lovebirds pile into their LeBaron convertible and head through the wastelands of nondescript flyover country. On the way, the couple pulls over at an abandoned rest stop. And that's when things go straight to the dogs.
Jess suddenly disappears, and Nicole, trapped at the rest stop, finds herself menaced by an anonymous wacko in a yellow pickup truck. Worse, it appears this guy might be some kind of murderous bastard who's been kidnapping and killing people for years. Nicole flips out and tries repeatedly to escape, only to be confronted again and again by the mystery man.
Even the presence of an idiot state trooper (Joey Lawrence) can do nothing to quell the bloodshed -- and in fact may add to it. As the true depth of the killer's depravity is revealed, Nicole will have to muster all of her spitfire wiles to make it out alive.
If Raw Feed produces hard-ass flicks like this in the future, it will certainly be a studio to keep an eye on. Rest Stop is a gritty, memorable onslaught of claustrophobia and bloodshed, and despite some narrative trip-ups, ends up separating itself from the cornucopia of horror poseurs out there. It's not flawless, but if this film is indicative of what's to come from the Raw Feed hombres, sign me up -- above all, these guys seem to get it.
Rest Stop is lean and mean; especially mean. The story is quite simple: unknown maniac with a penchant for torture and mind screw-jobs finds a pretty girl to torment over the course of 84 minutes. Oh, and Joey Lawrence stops by to get his pretty-boy ass kicked. Writer/Director John Shiban, who has his hands in the CW's Supernatural and makes his feature film directorial debut here, throws a lot of battle-tested genre elements in this thing, and the variety proves to be bittersweet. What's sweet is the amount of guesswork I ended up doing as the film progressed; "What's going to happen next?" I asked myself plenty of times (not out loud of course because that would just be stupid) and that off-balanced reaction generated solid discomfort, a must for a horror film.
The "bitter" end of that tactic is the "kitchen sink syndrome," where, at times, the amount of weird crap that was inserted into the film siphoned the suspense away and snatched me from the grips of my disbelief suspension. The most egregious example is the motor home ride with the wacko religious family and their deformed son. The sequence, while slightly unnerving and semi-fun to watch, felt pinned-on and contrived, as if Shiban was trying his damndest to squeeze every creep-factor out of the script. In the end, this whole stretch seemed like superfluous padding.
The best stuff here is the cat-and-mouse game with the killer, and the resulting flashes of torture that accompany. His identity undisclosed for the entire film, the killer is just a nutcase who's been doing this kind of thing for a while. His methods of mayhem are creative (Joey Lawrence takes it pretty hard) and the torture scenes are supremely graphic and who doesn't fear a half-shaven dude in a mesh cap and a crappy pickup? In that respect, Rest Stop struck me as a variation on High Tension minus the stupid and ridiculous plot twist. There isn't any kind of huge reveal (though a few scenes point to Shiban's desire to be clever) and I can get behind that. There's something to be said for a straight face-off with a lunatic.
The biggest complaint I can lodge with Shiban is the ending. I don't know if he knew how he wanted this film to wrap up, and the three alternative endings found in the extras bin testify to this. In short, the culmination is a letdown.
Rest Stop boasts an all-around strong technical presentation. The visuals are gritty and washed out (a stylistic choice of course), but when scenes sharpen the detail is impressive. Sound gives you a solid 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. In the bonuses, you'll get those alternate endings that aren't that great, some close-up footage of the torture sequences and a bizarre addition called "Scotty's Family Album," which chronicles the goings-on of the aforementioned motor home full of crazies.
It's not perfect, but Rest Stop is tough horror and an impressive maiden voyage from Raw Feed.
Yeah, here's a tip from the bench: when you have to relieve yourself, the woods always beats out an abandoned rest stop with backed-up toilets
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Three Alternate Endings
* "Crime Scene Photos"
* "Scotty's Family Albums"