Horror characters and ill-advised decisions are well-acquainted bedfellows. In Alessio Liguori’s Shortcut, the fateful decision is right in the name. But by the end, you may be using that title to describe every creative and script shortcoming in this underwhelming void of a horror film.

Shortcut will feel immediately familiar to those who’ve seen movies like Splinter, Jeepers Creepers 2 or any plot involving a nightmarishly-upended trip. A school bus of five teens and their older driver (Terence Anderson) are headed…somewhere, when they’re waylaid by a downed tree. All these characters have names mentioned or mumbled in passing, but they might as well be called Bad Boy (Zak Sutcliffe) and Class Clown (Zander Emlano) given the extent that those traits define the group. (One girl’s nickname is “IQ”, so it would be following the movie’s lead) Taking a dirt-road shortcut into the middle of nowhere, trouble begins soon enough: a dead deer, an inexplicable engine failure inside a tunnel, the escaped tongue-eating prisoner (David Keyes) who hijacks the bus. If only these people had watched Wrong Turn

Of course, we only know about the tongue eating (and scenery-chewing) predilection because of a family-time flashback jarringly inserted between hostage threats. If the high-school stereotypes weren’t loud enough hints, that flashback is the first major sign of Shortcut’s awkward direction. The rest of the film is plagued by boilerplate dialogue and stiff deliveries, exposition flashbacks that lead nowhere and voiceover platitudes in a film where every action and character feels puppeteered by the script. That awkwardness doesn’t abate once the unknown creature arrives and reduces the killer’s presence to a baffling 15-minute diversion.

Oh right, Shortcut is indeed creature horror, and for a few brief moments, there are glimmers of promise. A blanket of darkness as tunnel lights go out, the cloaked mound hunched in a flashlight’s dim glare. For several effectively-atmospheric moments, the film has a chance to salvage itself. Unfortunately, salvation becomes increasingly unlikely with each hidden-in-editing attack and every repetitive scene of shadow-obscured stalking. Even the fleeting hope for an interesting creature becomes a distant memory with the realization that Shortcut’s monstrous entity might just be a Uruk-hai deserter that stumbled off a Lord of the Rings set, so bland and uninspired is its design.

But it would be unfair to lay Shortcut’s horror failings solely on its forgettable monster and lack of tension. The characters are equally at fault. Their blasé reactions towards paltry and largely unseen gore, their often complete lack of terror and concern despite people being torn apart minutes before are only matched by their incessant habit of wandering off and making massive logical leaps. Many scenes of searching dark passages devoid of geography or threat amounts to a conclusion that can only warrant a that’s it? and an amused scoff as the script attempts to wring a thematic message from its empty plot.

Carve off the ample fluff, let the darkness and atmosphere speak more than the characters, and Shortcut might be able to work as a competent short. But at 80 minutes, this amateurish creature-feature has one hoping for their own shortcut to reach the end credits.

Summary
Even at 80 minutes, this amateurish creature-feature has one hoping for their own shortcut to reach the end credits.
15 %
underwhelming void
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