Warner Bros. // 2006 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // November 3rd, 2008
The First Stop On The Road To Hell.
Proving that hanging around in public toilets is never a good idea, Rest Stop: Dead Ahead is the faintly whiffy debut feature from Raw Feed. Already released on DVD, the uncut version now makes its way to the Blu-Ray format.
Leaving behind their life in Texas, Nicole (Jaimie Alexander) and Jesse (Joey Mendicino) are on route to a fresh start in California, when a planned shortcut leads them directly into a living nightmare.
Jesse is soon abducted by the driver of a yellow pickup truck, leaving Nicole alone and at the mercy of this psychopath. Taking refuge in the toilets of a rest stop, Nicole learns that this is not the first time events like these have occurred, with graffiti on the walls indicating this has gone on for decades.
By overindulging on horror clichés, writer/director John Shiban's Rest Stop: Dead Ahead ends up being a bitterly frustrating experience. An amalgamation of other, better, horror movies, from The Vanishing to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it just throws too many ingredients into the melting pot to sustain a single, coherent movie.
Like The Evil Dead and Phone Booth before it, Rest Stop keeps the unfolding events restricted to a central locale; the toilets at the rest stop being the main setting. While this approach should ideally lead to a tightly paced, claustrophobic thriller, the lack of focus in the writing means Rest Stop quickly begins to ask questions it apparently has no intention of answering, going as far as to leave certain elements hanging altogether.
Rather than keep the film focused, with Nicole's survival and Jesse's disappearance being all it's concerned with, Rest Stop introduces characters and subplots that seem too random and unnecessary. So, before long, we are introduced to a campervan full of religious fanatics, with a hideously deformed child hidden away in the back. Though the scene shared between Nicole and the family is one of the most effective in the film, it adds nothing to the plot, and feels more like an exercise in mimicking the dinner scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Next on my hit list is what I suspect is an attempt to give the film a supernatural edge, which quickly became my biggest gripe with Rest Stop. On a couple of occasions characters will literally just disappear. One minute they are there and then they are not. Through either sheer laziness, or an attempt at being clever, these occurrences are never explained; in fact they are never even referred to again.
The film's villain remains a complete mystery from start to finish. Only a few glimpses of his face are seen, with most shots being either bathed in shadows or from the rear. Complete with a nice line in sadistic slaughtering and torture, there are touches of a decent screen villain here. Unfortunately, like the film itself, there's some confusion over whether we are dealing with a supernatural boogeyman or a mere mortal, albeit one with psychopathic tendencies. This uncertainty does eventually begin to overshadow the character, much like the lack of focus in the script detracts from the film as a whole, and, as impact is lost, the film becomes quickly forgettable.
The 1.85:1 1080P transfer that graces this Blu-Ray release offers minimal incentive for those considering upgrading from the earlier DVD release. Although detail levels are improved, the image lacks the sharpness one would normally associate with a hi-def release and is a little soft. While black levels are good, they aren't enough of a step up from the DVD to warrant a double dip. The audio, which includes a 5.1 TrueHD track, is another missed opportunity. Though there are no noticeable flaws, neither the Dolby Digital nor the TrueHD tracks push the Blu-Ray format and are unlikely to be distinguishable from the DVD release to all but the true audiophiles' amongst you. That being said, the improvements in the audio and video make this Blu-Ray release the version to go for if you're coming to the film for the first time.
Unlike Otis, another of Raw Feed's recent Blu-Ray releases, Rest Stop retains all the extras of its DVD counterpart. Unfortunately, with three alternative endings being the highlight of the package, there's little to write home about.
With Jaimie Alexander being in most every shot of the film, a lot of its success falls on her shoulders. It's pleasing to be able to report that Alexander provides a solid performance that is certainly a good degree better than the majority of those seen in direct-to-video releases. The script never requires her to extend much beyond the typical survivor girl role, but her steely determination at least makes her someone you can root for.
When Shiban strips Rest Stop down to its most basic elements, and plays on the fear of being trapped in a confined space by a relentless killer, the film edges towards being pretty damn good. Creating some suitably tense moments, complete with an admirably disciplined use of gore despite some fairly brutal moments, Shiban the director has a great film in him. It's too bad that, as a writer, he can't show the same restraint, since most of the problems that plague Rest Stop can be traced directly back to the screenplay.
A series of nagging faults keep Rest Stop: Dead Ahead just a few inches away from being a cult favorite. With a far from stellar 1080P transfer, this Blu-Ray release offers a minimal upgrade over the DVD, leaving it hard to recommend.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 3 Horrific Alternative Endings
* Shocking Crime Scene Photos
* Scotty's Family Album