ONE KILLER HIT DESERVES ANOTHER
So reads the tagline in blood red on the back cover art for Rest Stop: Don't Look Back, the latest in Warner Brothers' Raw Feed collection, a series of direct-to-video shock films that began in 2006 with Rest Stop. I'm not sure I would have described Rest Stop as a "killer hit" considering its direct-to-video status and lukewarm-at-best critical reception, but I get the pun and it's not worth getting into an argument over semantics. After all, Rest Stop obviously must have been enough of a "hit" to warrant a sequel - the first sequel, in fact, in the Raw Feed line.
The best thing that can be said about Rest Stop: Don't Look Back is that it's not nearly as bad as it could have been. Faint praise, perhaps, but it's true nonetheless, especially considering the large volume of bad torture horror films in the vein of Saw and Hostel that are dumped into the home video market.
This sequel to Rest Stop takes place a year after the events of the original. Iraq war veteran Tom Hilts (Richard Tillman) is back home and itching to find his missing brother Jesse, one of the victims of the ghostly truck driving killer from the first film. Tom thinks he can do in 10 days what his parents, the police, and others couldn't do all year - find Jesse and find him alive. Tom's alcoholic girlfriend Marilyn (Jessie Ward) and obnoxiously goofy friend Jared (Graham Norris) tag along. Inexplicably, Jared decides to follow Tom and Marilyn in his junker car instead of riding with them in Tom's behemoth SUV.
Of course, our intrepid threesome right away discovers an eyewitness at a broken down gas station who recognizes Jesse and begin to be terrorized by the same truck driving killer who menaced everyone in the first movie. The characters also encounter ghosts of Jesse and his girlfriend Nicole, which would be considered a spoiler in this review if it weren't for the blurb on the back of the DVD that tells you what Nicole and Jesse are.
Anyway, what follows is fairly typical gory torture / slasher mayhem with the requisite nihilistic ending.
What works best in Rest Stop: Don't Look Back is its marriage of the torture genre with the supernatural. The ghosts of Jesse and Nicole are spooky as they flitter in and out of existence. The blood-spattered Jesse, in particular, is creepy, and a lengthy interplay between her and Jared is unusual (and sort of reminiscent of Gaius Baltar and Number Six in the new Battlestar Galactica series in concept). No pun intended, but the ghosts add some life to the proceedings of what would have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill torture film indistinguishable from others of its ilk.
Unfortunately, the three protagonists are poorly-conceived. Tom is a rather boring run-of-the-mill hero type. It's unclear why Marilyn is alcoholic, and she and Tom have zero chemistry. Worst of the three, however, is Jared. Jared is a live action clone of Shaggy from the cartoon Scooby Doo (there's even a lame Scooby Doo joke midway in the film). The unfunny comic relief the character is supposed to provide doesn't gel at all with the overall brutality of the movie.
Ultimately, Rest Stop: Don't Look Back is a film with some good ideas that's let down by uninteresting characters and conventional torture scenes. It's worth a look, especially if you've seen the first film, but it's a far cry from a must-see.
Rest Stop: Don't Look Back is presented in anamorphic widescreen. Details are strong and colors look nice. Some film noise is noticeable, however, especially during nighttime scenes.
The English audio track is a nice-sounding Dolby Digital 5.1. Dialogue could have been a tad stronger, but sound effects during action sequences are well-mixed and effective. There's also a Spanish language track in Dolby Digital 2.0. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
I'll give Warner Brothers credit for filling up Rest Stop: Don't Look Back's tank with a lot of extras.
First, when the disc is played, commercials for the Blu-Ray format and Project Origin video game and trailers for Beetlejuice and Alien Raiders precede the main menu. All but the last item aren't available in the menu system, but a link called Raw Feed Trailers provides access to trailers for Rest Stop, Sublime, Believers, Otis, Rest Stop: Don't Look Back, and Alien Raiders.
More significant are the extras devoted to Rest Stop: Don't Look Back itself. Deleted Scenes (10:28) gathers four sequences left out of the final cut. An Alternate Ending (0:56) seems more like an additional scene that could've been added before the final credits, though admittedly it only reinforces what the audience already knows. Doomed to Repeat: The Mythology of Rest Stop (12:21) is a fluff featurette with lots of scenes from the films edited in to pad it out. All three of these extras are presented in anamorphic widescreen, so the visual quality is better than the norm for these types of extras on standard DVD.
Finally, writer / producer John Shiban and director Shawn Papazian provide a commentary track. They're laid back in approach, and there are some significant pauses.
The interplay of the supernatural with the popular torture film genre is interesting here, but Rest Stop: Don't Look Back relies too much on cardboard characters and routine bloodletting. It's worth a rental if you're a fan of flicks like Saw and Hostel and want to see this uncut. This movie is a direct sequel to Rest Stop, so be sure to catch that one first.