One of the great things about the Saw series, especially Leigh Whannell and James Wan's first entry, is its capacity to do creative and different things on a shoestring budget. Any of its cinematic influences are kept relatively low-key, mostly indiscernible through its sharp screen presence and macabre ideas. The indie, low-budget horror film Shuttle, on the other hand, wears its influences on its sleeve. Instead of standing out as a one-note slice of horror with a unique twist, it seems like it's trying to blend together all of its borrowed elements into the illusion of creativity. That, in turn, crafts Shuttle into a "half-note" piece of disheartening suspense, relying on a collage of other films' swan songs for its intrigue without offering anything to redirect its path from verbatim obviousness.
The framework is pretty mundane: a group of four twenty-something party kids, fresh off the plane from a trip to Mexico, hop on an airport Shuttle for $15 bucks -- a pair. Already fishy, right? Some minor character development tumbles out from the woodwork, but the only one that we really care about is the seemingly-intelligent and somewhat reserved Mel (Peyton List). She's fresh out of a break-up with her husband-to-be, even though the trip to Mexico was painted up as a final spree of craziness for her and her childhood best friend before she walks down the aisle. As they board the budget-priced bus, manned by a deal-haggling driver (Tony Curran, who was great in Red Road) with a businessman (Cullen Douglas) in tow as the only other passenger, two uninteresting yet earnest hornballs pursue the girls just for testosterone's sake.
There. We've got our setup -- four new passengers, one passenger already on the bus, and one sketchy driver -- in a setting with atmospheric potential. Do yourself a favor, though, and try your best to forget any other horror or suspense films you've seen if you plan on sitting through this dreary ride. If you don't, then the hour long sprint after Shuttle's character development will be dull and ridiculously predictable. It has dark twists and violent turns, but they're all an array of bits and pieces that we've seen done many times over and in better fashion. Because of a lack of originality, it transforms into a tedious, foreseeable-from-a-mile-out drudge through cherry picked suspense elements.
It's really hard to shake the "been there, done that" feeling with Shuttle once the bus driver grips his pistol and becomes our antagonist, especially since the film's not really trying to counterbalance the sensation. Written and directed by Flawless writer Edward Anderson, it seems too chained down to formula to let out a gasp of breath. A character cuts themselves loose just when it looks like they should, identities shift at all the proper points, and every single character that dies does so in a rhythm much like gears just clicking along until the end. More importantly, it all goes down in horribly uninteresting fashion -- which doesn't bode well for a flick with such a bleak disposition. It's actually more entertaining to point out the films that influence Shuttle than watching the story itself, from elements of Saw and Scream to a dash of Speed for good measure.
Shuttle's one glimmer of hope comes in its performances, which are, by and large, done well enough to serve purposes. Considering that all of the characters are one-dimensional and fit snugly into stereotypical archetypes established in other films (Syndey from Scream and Adam from Saw, along with the ever-present spacey blonde girl), the cast tries adamantly to give personality to their characters. Especially lead actress Peyton List from TV's "Mad Men" and other smaller character parts, who gives Mel a fraught energy that likely oversteps the confines of her scripted character. If anything, Peyton List's performance should boost the actress into more dynamic roles.
Then, there's the pitch-black conclusion, which is neither rewarding nor markedly innovative. It has a certain shock compartmentalized within that I found to be clever, but the cloud of disheartening, futile negativity enveloping it just left me feeling sickened at the end -- and not in a gore-hound gleeful way. Might Shuttle's concept and ominous wrap-up speak to real fears of abduction and misplaced trust? Possibly, yet there's nothing really to take away from it. After the film puts the final nail in the coffin, it doesn't do anything to make us feel a sensation outside of being jerked around for an hour and a half. Emulation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but not when it's crammed within this kind of unpleasant banality.
Video and Audio:
Preserving the 2.35:1 original aspect ratio of film and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, Shuttle isn't exactly the most attractive film to watch. However, it preserves that orange-drenched atmosphere of airport lights and street lambs passing by quite well. Shooting in very, very dark environments on a low budget spells disaster for darker films, but everything actually comes together decently in Magnet's transfer. Grain gets pretty heavy in a few scenes and a blurry haze drapes over the image in quite a few spots. Others, however, showcase strong detail and texture usage through the manila and burnt orange color timing. Some aliasing can be spotted along a few jagged edges and the mosquito noise grows heavy quite a bit, but overall the transfer supports the core material well enough.
Along the same lines, the English 5.1 Dolby Digital transfer gets a similar job done -- supporting the material and its contents with little dynamic composition. Verbal clarity isn't too bad, though it gets a little muffled and harder to hear inside the bus cabin. Sound effects showcase a similar property, though they're a little less prone to being pressed down. The sound effects can be important to atmosphere in a few scenes, in which they do a fine job of adding to spacial awareness in both interior and exterior shots. Spanish subtitles are available with the English 5.1 and 2.0 tracks.
Behind the Scenes (5:13, FF):
Featuring interview time with actors, producers, and stunt coordinators and some sharp behind the scenes footage, this featurette's most intriguing qualities are rooted in showcasing the set layouts and discussions regarding particular elements and director intents. It's a short but nice piece, stepping out from beyond the realm of the generic marketing material for a bit.
Casting Sessions (24:00, FF)
Each of the six primary actors' casting sessions are available here. The lines read stick pretty close to the script, with a little roughness around the edges from each of them. Peyton List' tape is especially good, showing how she's able to take a stereotypical character and expound beyond
Also available are some uninteresting Deleted Scenes (4:12, FF Letterbox), and an anamorphic Trailer (1:57, 16x9).
Shuttle is, simply, an unpleasantly tense cautionary tale. There's a lot of influence tossed into its darkness, but none of it comes together into a memorable experience. All you're really left with, after it's all said and done, is a sense of discord, maybe a dash of second-guessing involving hopping on a bus outside of the airport. Though the conclusion have a splash of cleverness tossed in, it's missing the primary ingredient -- enjoyment. This paint-by-numbers horror film set in a location with potential should be Skipped, largely because of the garbled marriage between thriller/horror conventions and a macabre, dissatisfying wrap-up.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site