Combustible Celluloid
With: Jack Kane, Andrei Claude, Zak Sutcliffe, Terence Anderson, Sophie Jane Oliver, David Keyes, Zander Emlano, Teo Achille Caprio, Molly Dew, Raffaele Buranelli, Emma Giua, Matteo De Gregori, Mino Caprio
Written by: Daniele Cosci
Directed by: Alessio Liguori
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and some bloody images
Running Time: 80
Date: 09/25/2020

Shortcut (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bus and Them

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The monster tale Shortcut is by no means a good movie in the traditional sense, but it's scrappy, late-night, popcorn-munching, guilty fun, driven by D.I.Y. teen power, old-fashioned scares, and creepy music.

In Shortcut, five teens — brainy, bespectacled Queenie (Molly Dew), pudgy Karl (Zander Emlano), rebellious Reggie (Zak Sutcliffe), pretty Bess (Sophie Jane Oliver), and Nolan (Jack Kane), who nurses a secret crush on Bess — ride the school bus, driven by kind old Joseph (Terence Anderson). A fallen tree forces Joseph to take a shortcut, and when he steps out to remove a dead deer from the road, a gun-wielding psychopath (David Keyes) hijacks the bus.

Later, the bus stalls out in a long tunnel. Before long, a terrifying, savage creature attacks; the teens discover that it is sensitive to light, and they make their escape into a maze of more underground tunnels. There, they discover the secret behind the creature. But can they come up with a decent plan and make their escape?

Shot in Italy (like so many other low-budget horror classics), Shortcut has virtually nothing in it that hasn't been used in hundreds of horror movies before. It makes mistakes (a "total lunar eclipse" is mentioned prominently at the beginning and is then forgotten) and it's sometimes silly. But it's a pleasingly compact, simple idea with just a few characters, locations, and props. It also has that special spirit of a movie made by and for horror fans, on the cheap, using ingenuity and duct tape and bailing wire to hold it all together.

It does make the shameful misstep of reviving that old cliché of killing the Black character first, and another unfortunate cliché involves the chubby character that acts cowardly and always talks about food. But on the whole, the teen characters are a spirited, Goonies/Stranger Things-like bunch. Normally in movies like this, we get a batch of "types" that wouldn't actually be friends in real life, but this time it makes sense, since they're all stuck riding the bus together.

The partly-lit tunnels (with eerie patterns of light) are an inspired location, the practical monster is actually pretty scary, and the pulsing, electronic score of course recalls favorite classics of the 1970s and 1980s. Best of all, Shortcut moves fast and light enough that it makes its flaws easy to shrug off.

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