Rest Stop

Rest Stop (2006)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Jaimie Alexander, Joey Mendicino, Joey Lawrence
Extras: Alternate Endings, Crime Scene Photos, Scotty's Family Album, Trailer

Warner Brother's first foray into the straight-to-home-video market (courtesy of their new Raw Feed genre imprint) is a non-descript horror film named "Rest Stop" that unnaturally mixes supernatural elements and momentary flashes of gore with a derivative and lackluster story. A mild diversion that recycles ideas from more successful films, "Rest Stop" attempts to mine suspense out of the "stalk and slash" genre, only to quickly run out of steam.

A couple of annoying lovebirds named Jess (Joey Mendicino) and Nicole (Jaimie Alexander) decide to run off to Los Angeles with dreams of conquering Hollywood. Their plan hits a snag though when they encounter a psychotic Truck Driver who nearly drives them off the road (conjuring shades of "Duel, " "Joyride" and "Jeepers Creepers"). Before you know it, the bickering duo is lost somewhere in California, which is the perfect time for Nicole to complain about her full bladder. She demands that Jess pull over at the next bathroom they come across, which, of course, proves to be a big mistake. This is where the titular rest stop comes in, a place hosting a bulletin board stacked with missing person flyers and a bathroom (which apes the color scheme and set design of "Saw" and "Hostel") covered with graffiti detailing the nefarious deeds of an evil entity. After relieving herself, Nicole makes her way out of the disgusting bathroom only to find that her boyfriend has disappeared.

This sets off a series of uninspired set pieces involving the formerly introduced Trucker who plays mind games with the inexplicably stranded Nicole. Via flashbacks and home video footage taken by the Trucker, he is depicted torturing people in an abandoned bus somewhere, utilizing pliers, power drills, staple guns and box cutters, which lets us know that he is, in fact, somebody you don't want to be stranded at a rest stop with.

Before you know it, lapses in logic and common sense begin to pile up, along with massive plot holes that threaten to swallow the film. Every genre has its own conventions and with horror films it's commonly accepted that the hero or heroine will make some lame-brained decisions that will keep them in the face of danger. This is pretty much how such films generate suspense and audience interaction. While this is certainly par for the course, sometimes the character's actions veer off the deep end, cascading over the falls of outright stupidity. "Rest Stop" wallows in this type of stupidity, so much so that it drains what little tension was inherent in the set-up. Nicole consistently makes boneheaded decisions (what does she do when she figures out the Trucker is after her? She gets drunk!) that she forges no connection with us. When the lead character garners no sympathy or emotional resonance, everything becomes an exercise in tedium. Honestly, I prayed that the Trucker would just get on with it and finally kill her so I could turn the movie off.

But "Rest Stop" doesn't limit its imbecilic reach to just the heroine, no, the film is much more ambitious than that. Another moronic character emerges halfway through the film (a cop named Deacon, played with unintentionally humorous aplomb by former kid star Joey Lawrence). Disregarding all sorts of police procedure, Deacon's implausible actions only serve to cram Nicole into even more dangerous situations, logic be damned! In minor defense though, his literally mind-blowing exit is the only highlight of the film, just from the sheer ludicrousness of it all.

After awhile, the limited budget shines through, as we're forced to view the same three locations over and over. As such, I noticed a repetitious trend in the narrative. Basically, Nicole goes into the "haunted" bathroom (at least I think it's haunted…people appear and disappear inside, with no explanation given), then she'll leave for some arbitrary reason (why doesn't she just bolt out of the rest stop for help?), then something weird will happen to her (like encountering an RV inhabited by a Bible-obsessed family, which includes a deformed dwarf in a wheelchair who has a fascination with snapping Polaroid pictures), which then will lead her back into the somewhat safe confines of the bathroom…yet again. This is the structure of the film. Repeated ad nauseam. Speaking of nauseam, Nicole also cries. A lot. You can set your watch to how many times she lets the waterworks loose. Toss in some limp attempts at psychological horror, loads of laughable dialogue and characters who serve no purpose whatsoever and you're left with a plodding affair that will test your patience, even though the film clocks in at a scant 85 minutes.

This soul-deadening offering is the brainchild of writer/director John Shiban, who cut his teeth penning episodes of "The X-Files" and "Supernatural." Mr. Shiban unequivocally proves that a degree in genre television shows doesn't exactly mean you should graduate to a full-length film doctorate. I know what Shiban was striving for, a supernatural horror film ensconced in mystery; one that requires the viewer to assemble the pieces of the story together (while featuring generous amounts of torture which seems to be in vogue these days). Unfortunately, what we're left with is a convoluted mess that strives for connect-the-dots importance through outlandish means. When your mind checks out before the story even gets rolling, it's difficult to sustain much interest in the filmmaker's tired mechanizations. Frankly, Shiban shoots himself in the foot by providing plot clues in a roundabout way, when some straightforwardness would have been more effective. This is not to say that everything has to be explicitly stated, but ambiguity for ambiguity's sake is a self-defeating construct.

Warner Brothers Home Video presents "Rest Stop" in an anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For the most part, the picture is reasonably clean, sharp and devoid of blemishes. There are a couple of moments where graininess appears, but I think this might be a stylistic choice, since they occur only when the Trucker shows up. However, the grain isn't consistent throughout the whole film, so who knows? Regardless, these brief moments can be quite jarring on the eyes. Anyway, with a majority of the action taking place at night, I found that the black levels were fairly deep and rich. Overall, the presentation is a decent one.

An above-average 5.1 surround sound mix is featured. The center channels are mostly utilized with a few moments of atmospheric and directional effects populating the rear channels. The soundtrack music tends to be bass heavy and, although this is somewhat aggressive, the song selection is questionable. More often than not, the tunes don't match up with the tone of the film, resulting in wildly inconsistent scenes. I'm not sure if Warner Brothers had a back catalog of artists they wanted to feature or not, but the Pop-like confections don't work in a film of this nature. Dialogue is free of hiss and distortion, with vocals appearing clear and distinct. Subtitles come in English, French and Spanish.

The Extras are kicked off with three "Alternate Endings." If the original conclusion wasn't horrible enough, these are really off the deep end. They are funny in a "so bad it's good" kind of way, with each one getting progressively goofier. I got a couple of chuckles out of this Extra, which probably wasn't the filmmaker's intention.

"On the Bus" is a brief montage of the Trucker's torture victims. This doesn't exactly show off the make-up effects too well, since it seems that a majority of the victims just had some stage blood drizzled onto their faces.

"Scotty's Blog Expose" is up next and proves to be the only worthwhile section on the DVD. We get to see home video footage taken by the Scotty character (he's the deformed dwarf in the RV), detailing his family's wacky hijinks. Some background information about the Trucker is revealed (which only leads to more questions about who or what he is) and some moments of dark comedy manifest, something that was sorely missing in the final cut. The end of this Extra also sheds some light on the family and their purpose to the story, which only has me questioning why the director didn't include these revelations in the film itself, even though a brief snippet of this is included during the end credits.

Lastly, a "Trailer" is provided. I got another chuckle from the description of the film, which states that "Rest Stop" is "a film too shocking for theaters." I'd also like to add that the film is too amateurish and laughable for theaters. I guess it's a good thing that I'm not on the Warner Brothers marketing team.

A substandard attempt at psychological horror, "Rest Stop" tries too hard for its own good. With stylistic flourishes recycled from far superior films, "Rest Stop" forgoes any semblance of logic or common sense. Instead of a fun ride, we're left with a frustrating puzzle that leaves us stranded in the middle of nowhere, much like its lead characters. When the front cover of the DVD is the best part of the movie, you know you're in for trouble. Heed my warning, there's no need to pull over at this "Rest Stop," it's best to just keep on driving.