SOME URBAN LEGENDS ARE REAL
The cardboard slipcover to The Shortcut, a soon-to-be-released direct-to-video teen slasher film, bears a sticker on it with two pieces of unexpected information. One, this movie represents the first foray for Happy Madison's new label - Scary Madison (so, we're to expect more horror from the production company?). And two, it curiously uses its PG-13 rating as a selling point.
I want to emphasize how odd I found this second point. Horror seems to be a genre, especially on home video, that likes to use the prurient lure of "explicit," "unrated," and "too shocking for theaters" taglines and catchphrases to reel in its fans. That's not to say that contemporary horror can't be successful or good with a less-than-R rating, The Uninvited proved it can earlier this year. It's just unusual to see the teen-friendly rating emphasized on the box art, especially considering this movie didn't receive a wide theatrical release where the rating would ensure more teen dollars.
In any case, The Shortcut represents the first outing for Scary Madison, and despite its typical low budget direct-to-video faults, this slasher movie is surprisingly watchable. Director Nicholaus Goossen makes the most out of a limited budget, and screenwriters Dan Hannon and Scott Sandler craft teen characters that aren't insulting to teens everywhere.
The movie opens with a prologue that, in terms of ambience, feels like it came straight out of the first season of Supernatural. The year is 1945, and a young high school student goes out for a night walk near her school with a soldier boy who's soon off for Germany. The guy's a bit too frisky for comfort, so after spurning him, she takes off in the woods. Unfortunately, she meets her demise in the form of a rather evil little boy and a large rock.
Flash forward to the present day, and the same woods are the stuff of urban legend. New student Derek (Drew Seeley) gets filled in on the creepy old guy (Raymond Berry) that lurks in these woods from his friends after his little brother is dared into taking a hike through them. The kid practically gets traumatized after seeing a disemboweled dog and being threatened by the old man. After hearing about this, one of Derek's friends says his dog is missing, and the protagonists form an odd sort of Scooby Doo-ish gang (speaking of which, pay attention for the name of the fast food joint Derek works at) who proceed to investigate the old-timer.
The Shortcut is not a great film: its low budget shows throughout, and its quirky ending has a few "surprise" twists that are telegraphed earlier on - and they're a bit lame, to be honest. Also, the final 20 minutes are a an abrupt shift in tone, favoring violence, over the first 60 minutes, which are more easygoing.
However, I appreciated several things about this movie. For one, The Shortcut has strong character development, with a group of high school students who are uniformly well-developed, without the typical jock et al stereotypes that litter a lot of high school - themed films. The cast playing these teens aren't half-bad. The most recognizable of them are Shannon Woodward (The Haunting of Molly Hartley) and the lovely Katrina Bowden, who looks like she stepped right off the set of NBC's terrific comedy 30 Rock to spend a few days in Canada to make this movie. And finally, well, it just seemed novel to see a slasher film that actually toned down the blood and guts and left some of the grue to the imagination. It's something of a change of pace from all of the Saw wannabes out there in home video land.
All in all, I wouldn't describe The Shortcut as particularly memorable, but it's worth a look. Recommended.
Anchor Bay gives The Shortcut an anamorphic widescreen presentation in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The film's director Nicholaus Goossen, in a commentary track, reports right away that The Shortcut was shot digitally - though, given the film's budgetary constraints, the image looks surprisingly good, with strong colors and reasonably good details. Flashback sequences appear deliberately faded.
The lone audio track (save for the director's commentary) is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 affair. The track sounded serviceable, though maybe outdoors scenes could have used a little more oomph, as dialogue seemed a little faint at times.
Optional English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired are included.
Trailers precede the main menu for Nature of the Beast, It's a Boy Girl Thing, and Nanny Insanity. They don't appear to be accessible in the menu system, though a trailer for The Shortcut is.
In addition, director Nicholaus Goossen provides the aforementioned commentary track. He takes a lighthearted approach to his comments, but a random sampling suggests that he doesn't leave much dead space and talks quite a bit about The Shortcut's production.
The Shortcut is a PG-13 slasher film that serves as the initial offering for Happy Madison's new label, Scary Madison. It's not anything you're likely going to remember a decade from now, but as far as low-budget direct-to-video horror goes, it isn't half-bad. Teen characters that are honestly written - and a cast including 30 Rock's Katrina Bowden - help things out quite a bit here. Recommended.