Halloween Highway: Rest Stop

Howdi, stranger. I saw you hiking and decided to pick you up. It gets fairly lonely here on this long road. So buckle up and tour with me for a full week of horror movies.

Our trip begins with Rest Stop, a straight to dvd movie released in 2006. The writer and director is one John Shiban, a name that shouldn’t be unfamiliar to you if you followed the Chris Carter series. He wrote quite a few good X-Files episodes, one Harsh Realm episode and was one of the creative forces behind The Lone Gunmen show. Erm, maybe I should’ve known that last bit before I bought Rest Stop. All I knew was that he was a staff writer for The X-Files and that some of the better episodes were penned (and occasionally directed) by him. I learned something today: if part of someone’s filmography is okay, it isn’t bad to also look at the lesser successful part of the filmography. It shields you from extra disappointment.

The story in short: a young couple stop at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere because the girl needs to go to the restroom. The toilet doors are filled with scary sentences about a killer and everything inside is dirty. When the girl leaves the toilet, her boyfriend and their car have disappeared. Every time she tries to leave the place a truck manages to block her escape. Etc. etc.

Rest Stop isn’t awful, but you couldn’t force me to say it’s good. Not even if you try some of the persuasion methods seen in what’s sadly called “torture porn” movies. Rest Stop starts as a thriller, then opens a can of supernatural elements (not bad if you can show your X-Files pedigree here) before sadly opting for the path of torture porn. Is there really a need to see someone drill holes in parts of the body that don’t need them? If there is no ass-raping sequence in Psycho, it’s not only because Hitchcock wasn’t allowed to include it. It’s because it’s just not necessary to show every gory bit in detail… because sometimes it just hurts the movie.

The moment Rest Stop stops trying to be a supernatural horror movie and starts trying to cash in on the popularity of movies like Saw and Hostel (and their 700 sequels), the carefully built-up premise is thrown out of the window (complete with explosion, of course). Gone is Rest Stop‘s sense of atmosphere, now it’s replaced with an attitude of “Look how twisted we dare to be!” Shiban, who was a story editor during season four of The X-Files, should’ve known this. That was the season of “Home” (with freak brothers) and “Unruhe” (where a mad guy tried to lobotomize Scully). Those stories worked because the atmosphere came first and the gore (mainly in “Home”) only came second. What wasn’t shown on screen was filled in by your own imagination. Which is far superior than seeing someone bite off a finger (for no obvious reason).

Speaking of which, it takes a looooong time before you can feel sympathy for Nicole (Jaimie Alexander). Mainly because she decided to flee from her parents with one of the most annoying douchebags you’ve seen in a horror movie. By the time you do feel sympathy for her, the story becomes so incredible it’s impossible to the movie characters any longer as living creatures (because you’re too aware you’re watching a movie). That’s what an overdose of gore does to a viewer.

Yes, like Aja’s abysmal remake of The Hills Have Eyes, Rest Stop gloats in gore so much you see through it. Here is another movie that tries to be scary, is what you come to realize. And none of what follows will still scare you, not even the occasion return to its original form (the atmospheric supernatural thriller). What doesn’t help either is that most of the plot is quite familiar from other movies: a mysterious car blocking your exit, the torture porn, the weird (and deeply religious) family who are in the neighbourhood, the maniac you just can’t kill… stop me if you haven’t heard those before. And no, I’m not saying Rest Stop should’ve been a horror movie with brand new scares, but I can’t accept its soulless attempt to suck some blood (or money) out of Hollywood’s latest horror franchise. And yes, like all the torture porn movies, there is a Rest Stop 2.

Rest Stop 2 seems fairly impossible after watching the first movie, but they did manage to find a way to make the sequel credible. However, Nicole is no longer played by Jaimie Alexander. Now there’s a smart girl.

I have second feelings about ending this review with the usual score out of 10. Because sadly I can’t say the movie was as awful as I may have made it look now, even if that’s only thanks to a good performance by Jaimie Alexander and to John Shiban’s experience at The X-Files. The man can sure polish a turd. Now, how would you like me to rate the movie? As the excellently polished turd it now is? Or as the turd that’s still smelling underneath the surface? Rationally I should give this 4.5 or 5 out of 10. Emotionally, I want to go for a lower score. You decide.

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