The Shortcut

The Shortcut | Horror | rated PG-13 (V) | starring Shannon Woodward, Dave Franco, Katrina Bowden | 1:40 mins

There is a well known legend around the high school that you don’t take the creepy gated-off shortcut from school through the woods. When Derek’s younger brother takes the shortcut on a dare from his friends he encounters a dead dog and a creepy old man asking if he likes blood. When word about this incident gets out Derek and two friends (Shannon Woodward & Dave “we couldn’t afford James” Franco) along with a school jock who suspects the dog is his missing dog and Christy (Katrina Bowden), the school hottie who Derek is wooing, make a plan to stakeout and investigate the old man living in the shortcut.

My God, even the summery is lame. If you weren’t turned off by that plot outline, about as low-stakes as I’d ever heard for a horror movie, I’ll proceed. The Shortcut is based on a horror movie convention as old as it’s title is generic. From The Hills Have Eyes to Wrong Turn teens and families have been taking shortcuts through remote areas and stumbling on horrors for decades. In fact, going in I was kind of expecting Shortcut to be Wrong Turn on foot. Wrong Turn is one of the worst horror movies I’ve seen and its been a delight to see disgust for it spread universally. How could Shortcut be worse? Well, defying all odds, it is. Sure it lacks the sadistic cannibalistic gore of Wrong Turn, but it’s equally insulting in the sense that it is not a movie geared toward anyone who has ever seen a horror movie before.

Basically, The Shortcut is for kids. This is fairly evident in how every bit of violence is unseen. But cutting a horror movie to PG-13 is not an instant failure stamp. Many films lack gore and are truly intense or creepy and in the same year Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell got a lot of creative mileage out of a PG-13. But Shortcut lacks any ability to create tension or scares or even jumps. This extends to every professional quality about it. It can’t frame a shot, set up and pay something off, deliver believable dialog or decent performances. Nothing. The only actor here who gets out with their dignity is Shannon Woodward (The Riches), who exudes a naturalism in everything she does. It’s hardly a movie at all really, just an excuse for some people to get together with a camera and hang out for a few weeks.

Right off the bat things don’t look good for Shortcut when it displays itself to be a “Scary Madison production”. Apparently the horror movie arm to Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison comedy factory. It has the same shoddy, amature, creatively bankrupt quality found in all of Sandler’s productions. Sandler apologists will say a comedy doesn’t have to look and feel like Citizen Kane to be funny and I wouldn’t argue, but it’s a little different for the horror genre, which requires a greater knowledge of the language of cinema to affect the emotions than the director of Grandma’s Boy is capable of. Shortcut doesn’t even try. It feels like a high school student film made a group of kids who already have their acceptance letters to college and couldn’t care less about what they’re doing. It even ends with a proverbial middle finger to the audience.

Back to the movie. Well, it’s atrocious. Unwatchable. It has all the pace and suspense of Manos: The Hands of Fate. It spends and ungodly amount of time on the kids hanging out together, not establishing character mind you, just with a camera sitting on them while they spit out the most inane teen movie dialog. It continues in neutral on Derek’s attempts to get Christy which doesn’t appear to take much wooing at all go get her. Even this doesn’t appear to be a challenge. The movie is completely devoted to the teens for a good solid hour, in which no, zero, threat or challenge is presented. The stakes couldn’t be lower. Outside of the Scary Madison logo, there isn’t an ominous moment in the film.

In the third act the movie finally gets around to knocking on the door of it’s own genre. The teens finally get around to exploring the shortcut and the old man’s “creepy” house therein. What they find takes the movie from deadly dull to absolutely ridiculous, each revelation more idiotic than the last. My favorite being a giant spool of chain around a prisoner that probably has enough chain to let him wander into the next county. There are not one but two “twists”. One obvious, set up through cheesy 50s-set flashbacks (where dad smokes a pipe), yet still makes no sense and another that comes completely out of nowhere in the final minute.

It seems I’ve officially given more thought to The Shortcut than anyone involved did. Sandler’s cult following will find some reason to lap it up, but my hope is that The Shortcut does not become part of a series of Sandler produced horror movies. The story is awful, the script is worse, the production is worse than that and Shannon Woodward deserves a whole lot better. The Afterdark Horrorfest movie The Final is working with an equally dirt poor budget, but through solid writing and superior acting it makes the most of it. That would be the movie to see instead of this one.

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