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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Rest Stop: Dead Ahead (Blu-ray)
Rest Stop: Dead Ahead (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // R // September 30, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 16, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The moral of
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the story here...? Just hold it in. Yup, the torture and torment slathered throughout Rest Stop all go back to one tiny bladder on a road trip to Tinseltown. If Nicole (Jaimie Alexander) hadn't super-sized that last Diet Coke, maybe she and her boyfriend Jesse (Joey Mendicino) would livin' it up in Hollywood right now. Nope, Nicole had to go, and she didn't wanna piss in the dirt of whatever backwater highway they're tearing down, so they pull into a dingy rest stop.

This ladies' room is like something out of a David Fincher wet dream -- sopping with shit...toilet paper and graffiti everywhere -- but Nicole's committed, so she grudgingly takes care of business and strolls back outside. Only...hey, where's Jess? He's vanished, and no one else seems to be around either. There's a Winnebago with a bunch of religious wackos and a pint-sized mutant shutterbug inside, but they're not answering. The park ranger's nowhere in sight, and the cord on the pay phone -- y'know, the one right next to that big, big stack of "Missing Person" fliers -- has been snipped. She's stranded in the middle of the desert, and it's sixty miles to the next rest stop.

Nicole's day is only gonna get a hell of a lot worse. This battered yellow truck that ran the two of 'em off the road earlier keeps circling around and around, and when the driver chucks Jess' bloodstained cellphone out his window, Nicole realizes that she's trapped. There's no way out, and even though she's barricaded herself inside the ladies' room, she knows it's just a matter of time before this deranged psychopath finds a way in and carves her up.

We're not talking about some direct-to-video Hostel knockoff, though; the gore and torture in Rest Stop are kind of slow in coming and never really linger. The movie's right at half over before we see the first of it -- a power drill carving its way through a leg -- and it comes and goes from there in quick, bloodied spurts. With so few characters, Rest Stop can only rack up the body count so high before running dry, and that's not really the movie it wants to be anyway. It's more interested in that claustrophobic sense of knowing there is no escape -- nowhere to run, no one that can help -- and ratcheting up the tension while the inevitable lurks in the shadows. Y'know, think Laurie Strode cowering in that closet in Halloween, only for eightysomething more minutes and...um, not as good.

This was only John Shiban's second time stepping behind the camera as a director -- he only had one episode of The X-Files under his belt before this -- and his inexperience can be kind of glaring. I mean, when the truck suddenly plows into Officer Mike (played by Joey Lawrence!), there's no drama or impact to it. There's no terror, excitement, or...anything. No clever camerawork, no huge stings in the score, no bone-crunching sound effects, and no horrified reaction shots: just a cop quietly bouncing off the hood of a truck. Shiban doesn't seem that much more committed to the dialogue either. Jesse's defining bit of characterization is that he says "fuck". A lot. The wackjobs in the Winnebago seem like a failed stab at quirkiness...trying to toss in something to get Nicole away from the rest stop for a couple of minutes and quadruple-underline whatever it is the truck driver represents. There's a real "...the hell?" randomness to that dangling subplot, and it's not paid off until halfway through the end credits.

There's a supernatural angle that practically
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torpedoes the movie. I get that the point is to keep Nicole on edge -- that she can't trust anything she sees -- but it'd be a lot more unnerving if the truck driver were just some random, unrelenting killer. I might feel differently if Rest Stop used the supernatural to better effect, but as it is, people she's been chatting up just periodically disappear. Okay. Who cares?

Pretty much everything I like about Rest Stop points back to Jaimie Alexander. Within the first few minutes, she's banging her boyfriend off the side of the road and puffing away on a joint, so she's obviously marked for death, but with Jesse out of the picture and as pretty much the only female character in the movie, Nicole also has to settle into the role of Final Girl. She's caught in the middle of those two genre mainstays, and Alexander pulls it off remarkably well. She sells that sense of panic and terror, and Nicole still comes across as bright and resourceful when it counts. Okay, maybe she's not clever enough to try...y'know, leaving, even if the next rest stop is hours and hours and hours away, but I can get past that.

There are a bunch of really small touches that leave Nicole coming across as more than just another red shirt, like that beat or two of hesitation before smashing open a window early on and the way she spits out little chunks of stale pretzels as she's killing time. I mean, a horror flick like this either needs to plow through a big stack of corpses, or it's gonna try to flesh out people you don't want to see carved up into bite-sized chunks, and those little bits of personality make Nicole seem like much more of an actual character.

So...drive-in totals? One cut-off tongue. Poking with a power drill. One gnawed-off finger and a couple of nubs besides. Twenty gallons of vomited blood slathered across the ladies' room floor. A splattery gunshot through the noggin times two. A box cutter used for...y'know, slicing open something that's not so much a box. A pretty brutal twist near the end once Nicole thinks she's in the clear. Joey Lawrence's legs being run over by a truck...again...and again...and again...and... Half-nekkid Molotov-cocktail-chucking. A couple of body-double breasts jiggling around in reeeeeeally tight closeups in a sex scene just off the highway. Several bits with girls pretending to pee if you're into that sorta thing.

Rest Stop isn't an especially good horror flick, but it's good enough, I guess, delivering just enough tension and splatter to make this Blu-ray disc at least worth picking up as a rental. Rent It.

Video: Rest Stop:
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Dead Ahead
doesn't look nearly as slick in high-def as its sequel. Although tighter closeups still hammer out the detail and clarity I'd hope to see in a shiny new Blu-ray disc, the 1.78:1 image tends to look really soft. The shots of the truck at night in particular are so soft and smeary that they halfway look out of focus. Both Rest Stop flicks lean towards fairly stylized photography, opting for a gritty, grainy texture and occasionally blowing out the contrast. The video doesn't show any signs of speckling or wear, and the VC-1 compression doesn't buckle under the weight of the film grain.

I don't have the original DVD handy to compare, but I doubt that this Blu-ray disc is enough of a step up to warrant shelling out another fifteen or twenty bucks to upgrade. Taken on its own...? Rest Stop looks okay, I guess, but just barely.

Audio: Rest Stop's 16-bit Dolby TrueHD track is kind of an indifferent shrug too. There's really not much of a low-end at all. The subwoofer kicks in during some of the songs scattered throughout the movie, and the explosions near the end of the flick pack a wallop, but other than that...? Nothin'. Even the rumble of the truck's engine and a convertible being totaled aren't backed by all that much of a low-frequency kick.

Because Rest Stop does take kind of a low-key approach -- I mean, it's more about claustrophobia and the unsettling anticipation of something happening than buckets of blood splattered across the screen for an hour and a half -- the surrounds tend to be subdued as well. The rears are mostly reserved to flesh out some light atmosphere like the creaking inside the Winnebago and drips of water in the bathroom, and they kick in during some of the more intense moments, particularly near the explosive climax. This isn't an especially ambitious or
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aggressive soundtrack, and it's surprisingly low-key for a horror flick, but...again, it's okay.

Rest Stop also includes a traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 track along with subtitle streams in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

Extras: Unlike the past couple of Raw Feed high-def discs that chucked all of the DVD extras out the driver's side window, Rest Stop carries over all of its original bells and whistles. There's really not all that much, though, clocking in well under fifteen minutes in total.

Three alternate endings are set against a completely different backdrop than what eventually made it into the final cut, and each ending closes on "boo!" scares that get more and more eye-rollingly stupid as they go along. "On the Bus" crams together a minute and a half of grisly Polaroids snapped on the trucker's abandoned bus-slash-torture workshop. I wouldn't be surprised if there's more gore in that reel than there is in the entire movie, by the way. The highlight, I guess, is "Scotty's Big Exposé", a six and a half minute set of home movies spelling out the connection between the religious nutjobs on the Winnebago and the, um, psychopathic phantom-trucker. Some of this footage plays over the movie's end credits, and a bloodied, fist-sized chunk of it was recycled for the sequel. A trailer rounds things out, and it -- like all of the other extras on this disc -- is presented in standard definition.

Conclusion: I was sent Rest Stop: Don't Look Back a couple of weeks before the original showed up in the mail, and it's kind of odd being introduced to a franchise through a batshit crazy sequel, then backpedalling a few weeks later to see that the movie that kicked the whole thing off is pretty damned restrained by comparison. Still, I kinda liked Rest Stop. It doesn't exactly set out to redefine the genre or anything, but some of the torture made me wince (in a good way), the movie does a decent job ratcheting up the tension, and Jaimie Alexander is pretty compelling as a direct-to-video Final Girl. Rest Stop is the sort of horror flick I'll watch, kinda-sorta dig, and forget about. It's worth checking out once, but it's not something I'd recommend forking over your credit card to buy. Rent It.
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