Friday, October 3, 2008

Rest Stop 2: Don't Look Back (2008)

When I first saw Rest Stop, I was severely disappointed. To me, the movie had no redeeming value, was unmemorable and was an absolute chore to sit through. So when I heard a sequel had been made, I expected it to suck just as epically as the first one had (if not more so). Surprisingly, I found that Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back, while not a “must-see” horror flick, got things much more right than the original.

Tom (Richard Tillman) is on leave for 10 days from Iraq. He decides to take his time off to search for his little brother Jess (Joey Mendicino) who disappeared with his girlfriend Nicole (Julie Mond, replacing Jaimie Alexander from the first film) on their way to California. He takes his bitchy, alcoholic girlfriend Marilyn (Jessie Ward) and his goofy friend Jared (Graham Norris) along with him for the ride. On the border of California they find an old gas station attendant that remembers Jess and points the trio to the Old Highway where he and Nicole were last seen. Pretty soon the three friends are back at the same rest stop Jess and Nicole disappeared from and the driver (Brionne Davis) of the beat-up yellow truck with license plate number KLZ 300 is after them…

Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back was a surprise to me. It’s not the best or most memorable movie in the world, but it is far superior to its predecessor. My main praise stems from the fact that the story is much more fleshed out, though the script feels rushed and gloms over some new developments. For example, we learn more about the ghostly driver’s backstory and about an Indian legend that says if your eyes are plucked out and you are buried without them, your spirit is doomed to wander the earth. Still, neither of these plot points are developed very well, giving us just enough to kinda make sense of what’s going on. Also, the creepy fanatical family is back for a few scenes, though I’ve always thought using the religiously crazy in films shows a lack of creativity on the writer’s part. Despite these issues, I enjoyed the more developed supernatural story in Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back. 

The creepiest scenes (there weren’t any really scary or even tense ones) involved our protagonists’ interactions with ghosts…however these apparitions were very real and you could even reach out and touch them (ask Jared!). They would be there and in an instance they would just disappear. This kept you on the edge of your toes and towards the end you weren’t quite sure who was alive or dead…giving you some nasty and nihilistic surprises near the end.

As for the characters, they were all pretty shallow and unlikable. Tom is your typical buff hero, Jared is your typical goofy sidekick and Marilyn is your “typical” bitchy girlfriend. I say typical in quotes because I don’t know how anyone could stand her constant complaining and meanness. Not to mention she hits the bottle between every other breath. Why can’t anyone write a believable, likable female character?? Despite this, the characters redeem themselves towards the end, when we do start caring for them, but I think by then it’s a little too late.

Also, they sure show The Driver (that’s how he’s credited) a whole lot towards the last half of the film…perhaps a little too much. When they reveal the killer, showing his entire face and body, he loses some of the mysteriousness as well as his scare factor. I think they should have kept him shrouded in the shadows or just show bits and pieces of him, like in the original (wow! one thing the original did right!). Yet, actor Brionne Davis does a great job bringing The Driver to life by just using subtle facial expressions and not saying one word (unless you count the flashback in the Winnebago).

The rest of the acting in the film is pretty solid, even though the characterizations are shallow. No one really stands out as being either very good or very bad, so there isn’t much to say about the acting except for the fact that it works.

Despite being a supernatural slasher movie, Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back doesn’t have that more gore. Sure, there are freshly-plucked eyeballs, body parts drilled and hammered with nails and some bloody corpses, but most of the action is off-screen or obscured within the scene by people or things standing in the way of the money shot. Nonetheless, the lack of explicit gore actually helps the film and it doesn’t become just another run-of-the-mill “torture porn” movie.

Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back is a much better film than its predecessor, Rest Stop, but that doesn’t automatically make it a great film. It has its flaws and it’s not an entirely memorable movie, but for one night of mindless fun you might want to pull over and pick up Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back.

Available from Amazon!

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