Rest Stop
directed by John Shiban
(Warner, 2006)

For this horror fan's money, Rest Stop is a gritty, gory thrill ride well worth watching. Yes, the story has some problems, but I really don't understand all the vitriol directed toward this juicy little film. You have to respect a killer who has honed his craft to such an exquisite degree as the Rest Stop killer; this guy has psychological and physical torture down to a freaking science, savoring every minute of the heroine's extended ordeal. He repeatedly leaves the scene entirely, confident that his prey remains under his complete control in each of his absences.

Admittedly, the fact that our poor dumb heroine isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer helps, but I still have to give major kudos to our bad guy. I don't think I've ever characterized a killer as having panache, but this guy has it in spades. I don't care how unoriginal and sometimes cliched the movie is, I quite enjoyed it. Still, the critics have some valid points. The addition of a certain family into the story was an embarrassingly bad decision that comes across as shameless pandering, while certain potentially confusing elements in the plot will be decried as serious plot holes by some -- although I think their inclusion and lack of a definitive explanation actually add an effective depth to the story. Those who expect their horror movies to wrap everything up with a Scooby Doo ending won't like it, but I see no reason why a horror film can't leave you pondering over a few unanswered questions.

The basic storyline is pretty simple. Young Nicole Carrow (Jaimie Alexander) runs off to California with her boyfriend Jess (Joey Mendicino) -- but they never make it. At some point along the way, Nicole's need to relieve herself lands them both at the world's nastiest and most remote rest stop. Showing great fortitude, Nicole actually manages to do her business inside, but there is no Jess and no car waiting for her when she comes back out. As the hours and minutes pass, her wonder and bafflement at Jess's disappearance turn to deep concern, and then her worst fears seem to be confirmed by the menacing presence of a mysterious man in an old yellow truck -- the same man and truck referenced on a number of ominous graffiti posts (going back a number of years) on the bathroom stalls. Nicole's night takes on a number of macabre, borderline insane twists and turns, but the one overwhelming constant is the killer's murderously calculated intent to torment this poor girl.

At one point, Nicole does interact with the world's weirdest family inside an RV, and the movie suffers greatly for the inclusion of this scene. It's patently ridiculous and really disrupts the tension and suspense the movie has the built up until that point. It's most unfortunate because Nicole's interaction with a couple of other characters during her ordeal plays so well. I have to take a moment here and praise Joey Lawrence for his performance; I never knew he could act, but I thought he was great in this movie.

It also behooves me to say a few words about the DVD extras. In general, it is never a good thing for a movie to come with alternate endings, let alone three of them, because their presence on the DVD necessarily conveys the impression that the director was never quite sure how to end the movie. We can at least take comfort in the fact that he chose the best of the available endings for the film itself, as none of the three alternate endings works well at all, in my opinion. Personally, I would not have included them on the DVD. Other extras include a slideshow of "crime scene" shots as well as a home movie made by a member of the RV family. Apparently, this little film may have a bearing on some of the film's open questions, but it's really more stupid than anything else.

In the end, we do have a flawed, unoriginal, cliched movie -- yet I think it works surprisingly well despite these handicaps. Obviously, a significant number of viewers disagree with me on this. I would just ask you not to dismiss this film out of hand because of all the negative reviews. While you've no doubt seen this type of storyline play out before in other horror movies, Rest Stop does succeed in invoking an atmosphere all its own. It's not scary, but I certainly had a good time watching it.

review by
Daniel Jolley

24 July 2010

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