Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Jaimie Alexander, Deanna Russo, Edmund Entin, Gary Entin, Joseph Lawrence
Directed by John Shiban
Distributed by Warner Home Video
Road trips. We’ve all taken them. In between the fast food and the loud music, there’s one other necessity a traveler cannot live without — the rest stop. Ah yes, we love them so! Once there the road weary can unload their bodily wastes and then pump change into vending machines for soda and a hefty helping of sugary treats. They can be very much like an oasis of sorts. But what would happen if pulling into one turned out to be the biggest mistake of your life? If the very place where you sought comfort ended up being populated by evil? In John (X-Files / Supernatural) Shiban’s directorial debut one thing is for certain — there is no rest for the wicked.
The film opens with a woman entering a bathroom stall for a bit of bladder relief. While she’s sitting there, a door opens. Heavy footsteps begin to make their way toward her. When they stop, she looks down and sees a pair of dirty boots standing right in front of the thin door that sits before her. Even worse, through the crack she can see the partial face of a man not only peering in but inhaling deeply the scent of whatever it is she’s doing. Talk about creepy. Needless to say, things do not end up going very well for her.
From there we’re introduced to Nicole (Jaimie Alexander). She’s your average young angst-ridden rebel who has decided to run away from her Texas home with her boyfriend, Jess (Joey Mendicino), in order to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. Nicole lives by the philosophy that everyone has his or her own personal demon. She is her parents’, hers is probably her lover, so on and so forth. For her life is a series of confrontations, and her only goal is to take control of hers as a means to become the master of her own destiny.
Once they’re on the road, things seem pretty sunny for our duo. Unfortunately for them they end up committing the cardinal sin of horror films — they get horny! During a bit of roadside Californication, the driver of a yellow pick-up truck spots the two lovers doing the hot and heavy, and before you can say …Rusty Nail… our protagonists have found themselves a stalker. This sicko (we shall call him The Driver) exhibits a playfully psychotic side at first, playing chicken and whatnot, but things really heat up once Nic and Jess decide to pull into a local rest stop.
After hovering over a toilet that would make even horror author Joe Knetter cringe, Nicole heads back to the parking lot only to find that Jess is gone. There’s no sign of him or his car. She’s all alone except for one old beat-up camper. Suddenly she sees a Polaroid flash go off in the back window of the vehicle. Maybe she could get a ride, right? Wrong. Despite her knocking, no one answers. She’s left to her own devices, and she’s not happy about it. Why would Jess leave her? Maybe he is her own personal demon. But then The Driver returns, nearly running her over, just to toss Jess’ bloodied cell phone on the ground in front of her before speeding away. It has become clear that this is no safe haven, and she’s in for one helluva long night.
The Driver spends most of the rest of the film playing with Nicole. Torturing her mentally. Sometimes he attacks her viciously, and others he just walks casually by her to go and do something else. This is no ordinary killer. Something about the situation seems very fucking off. After a while Nicole finds that there are some other inhabitants at the rest stop. Can they help? Can she help them? Are they connected to The Driver? That’s your set-up, and the results are pretty surprising.
Overall the cast — including a damned near unrecognizable Joey Lawrence — does a wonderful job, especially the lead Jaimie Alexander. While there are other characters that come and go, this is clearly her film, and it rests heavily upon her shoulders. For the most part she is very good, but the problem with her performance is that it exists between two cliches: the whiny hysterical chick that is ready to roll over and die and the tough chick who will no doubt kick a lot of ass. She slides between these two extremes carefully while skating dangerously close to the usual over-acting pitfalls. It takes a competent director to know when to reign their actors in, and Shiban does a good job of keeping things from getting silly.
Another thing viewers will notice is how well polished Rest Stop looks and sounds. This movie feels like a big budget release and not standard direct-to-video fare. The camera work is solid, the sound design is spot on, and even the soundtrack — despite showcasing quite a few songs — never feels forced or out of place.
However, Rest Stop is not without its shortcomings. One thing that drove me crazy is how many times we had to see the sign for the rest stop. Seriously, it was filmed at just about every conceivable angle: close-up, far back, panned left, panned right, etc. OK, we get it. She’s at a rest stop. Enough with the damned sign! When not being hit over the head with the film’s locale, there are quite a few moments of flaccid tension. Some of the scenes, while shot and acted well enough, lack the punch they should have had. This can be attributed to the derivative nature of the plot. We’ve seen some of these set-ups a countless amount of times.
Thankfully the tedium does not last very long because just when you think you know all of the rules, the game changes. There are plenty of “What-the-fuck?” moments to be had which equal a great deal of mean-spirited mayhem.
Now let’s talk about that oh, so enticing seven-letter word — unrated. Rest Stop is available in two cuts although I cannot imagine anyone actually saying to themselves, “You know what?! I wanna watch the edited version of this movie.” Having only viewed this edition of the film, I have nothing to compare it to. I have no clue what was cut to attain an R rating, but I’m willing to bet it had a lot to do with the violent tendencies of The Driver. Make no mistake, Rest Stop delivers an above average amount of gore. Skulls are ventilated, appendages are chewed off, and there’s even some drilling going on. Gore-hounds will walk away from this experience fairly satisfied.
On the supplemental side of things we get an adequate little package. Included are three alternate endings which I am glad they did not use, a crime scene video montage, and one of the strangest featurettes that has ever graced DVD, entitled Scotty’s Family Album. Who is Scotty you ask? Hell, I ain’t gonna ruin that for you. This near seven-minute slice of depravity alone bumps this review rating up an extra half a Stabbie. It’s just fucking genius!
Rest Stop serves as the first of three genre films under Warner Home Video’s “Raw Feed” label. It’s an impressive debut feature that will no doubt spark a lot of conversation both online and off. This is not the run-of-the-mill slasher fare that you may instantly dismiss it as. Stick with it beyond the first half hour, and you may just enjoy the ride. Dark, gritty, and violent, this bit of “Raw” is actually well done.
Three alternate endings
On the Bus crime scene featurette
Scotty’s Family Album featurette
3 1/2 out of 5