Monday, May 11, 2009

Shuttle (2009)

When you think about it, we entrust our lives to random drivers on a daily basis. We rely on the drivers of taxi cabs, buses and shuttles to take us where we need to go. We are confident that once we step into their vehicle that they will take us to our desired location. We don’t ask questions if they take certain “shortcuts” and place our full trust in the driver to get us there in one piece. What if, though, a driver decided to kidnap you and make you his or her prisoner?

This is what happens in Shuttle, when two girlfriends, Mel (Peyton List) and Jules (Cameron Goodman), arrive back home after a weekend getaway in Mexico, only wanting to return home as soon as possible. The airline loses Mel’s luggage, so they are the last ones waiting for a shuttle that will take them home. They flag a shuttle down, but another driver (Tony Curran) offers them a ride at half the cost so they accept. Two guys, Matt (Dave Power) and Seth (James Snyder), from the same flight also decide to take the shuttle, and the four join the lone passenger on board, a jumpy businessman named Andy (Cullen Douglas).

The five passengers soon realize that their driver isn’t taking them to their desired destinations, but has much more nefarious plans…

Shuttle is an amazingly well-done and tension-filled film. I was surprised that it wasn’t just another standard slash ‘em up horror flick, but actually had depth and kept you guessing the whole way through! It also benefited from sympathetic characters, realism and some cringe-worthy scenarios (and I’m not just talking blood and guts here).

The story, written by Edward Anderson (who also directed) is simple yet extremely taut. Like the characters, we never know exactly what is going on or why they are being kidnapped. Anderson adds odd little clues as to their destination, but nothing is revealed until the end, where all the puzzle pieces come together to reveal the true tragedy of the situation. The suspense created by the mystery of not knowing what was going on was fantastic, and my eyes were glued to the screen for the entire running time. I kept trying to guess what was going on and why, but nothing could prepare me for the impact of the devastating ending.

I also liked how Anderson addressed an important issue with his film (one that I can’t mention specifically without giving too much away). While people might assume it happens only in third world countries, Anderson brings attention to the fact that it happens right here in the United States. He also doesn’t try to exploit the issue at hand, but shows just how horrifying and terrible it really is.

Anderson also does a fine job of developing the characters. While he doesn’t go too much in-depth with them, we still feel for them as they try and try again to get out of their terrifying situation. It was refreshing to see characters that fought back and tried to get away, yet still had the decency to not leave their friends behind. The fact that they were at the “wrong place at the wrong time” also adds to the sympathy you feel for them.

The acting is very well-done, especially by Tony Curran who plays the Driver with surprising restraint while still managing to come off as dangerous and menacing. He doesn’t take sadistic pleasure in brutalizing his passengers, instead portraying the Driver as a weary worker just trying to do his job. Peyton List was fantastic as Mel, who was the backbone of the group of passengers. With few exceptions, she fought back every chance she took while protecting her friend Jules. She really elicited the viewer’s sympathy, especially when you think she is getting away only to be re-captured by the Driver. Cameron Goodman as Jules took an unlikable characters, a spoiled little rich girl, and actually made her likable! As the characters get deeper and deeper into the Driver’s plan, you can’t help but feel for the whimpering Jules. With a lesser actress in a role, Jules could have just come off as annoying, but Goodman turns it around so you are sympathetic for her character.

The direction by Edward Anderson is extremely solid for a first-time director! Most of the action takes place on the cramped space of the shuttle, but Anderson utilizes the small space well, giving it a claustrophobic feel. Most scenes are also bathed in grimy, florescent lighting, adding to the grim menace of the film. The direction also has a certain fluidity that keeps the action moving on relentlessly.

My only problem with the film was that the driver was seemingly impervious to mortal wounds. The passengers fought for their lives against him and certainly left their mark. The driver was bludgeoned, stabbed, involved in a nasty traffic accident and even shot, but every time he got up and was as good as new! While this certainly hurt some of the film’s believability, it still didn’t effect my overall enjoyment of the flick.

Shuttle is a horror film that travels in the fast lane, moving at a break-neck speed toward its devastating conclusion all the while keeping you guessing as to what is going on. Its thrilling, well-written story, sympathetic characters and sure-fire direction make this a very smart choice for savvy horror viewers who crave an intelligent, psychological horror film.

Available from Amazon!

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