The thick carpet of fallen leaves and the damp earth softening the sound, an almost empty bus decades past its expected retirement date moves through the forest, Joseph at the wheel, teenagers Bess, Queenie, Nolan, loudmouth Karl and loner Reggie in the back, mismatched companions on a road blocked by fallen trees, necessitating a diversion off the main route.
The radio telling of an imminent lunar eclipse, making out that it is a phenomenon considerably rarer than it actually is, their destination is unclear, nor their reason for being on the road – if this is a school trip, where are the teachers, why is the bus almost empty, and why is their transport so antiquated?
The back road through the misty hills blocked again by the body of a dead animal, the portents are that they are somewhere they should not be, but Joe clears their path, dragging the carcass into the woods, leaving the path open down a road of darkness, a shortcut which will have a cost in blood but which will teach the survivors the lesson of true friendship.
Directed by Alessio Liguori from a script by Daniele Cosci, Shortcut is less of a mystery thriller as a non-sequitur, filmed in Italy and presumably set there from the signage of the “zona militare,” though all the characters speak English and the newspaper clippings and journals found in the “control room” of the underground labyrinth in which they are trapped are conveniently readable by candlelight.
The mechanics of the plot driven by expedience rather than sense, an escaped murderer whom Karl is conveniently able to identify introduced then as swiftly removed after he has forced Joe to drive at gunpoint for reasons undisclosed to the lair of the photophobic “Nocturne Wanderer,” when given a chance rather than running back to the open the survivors head further into the tunnels where Karl improvises drum solos just to draw extra attention.
The premise of Howl morphing into the off-road disaster of Severance, the teenage cast of Sophie Jane Oliver, Molly Dew, Jack Kane, Zander Emlano and Zak Sutcliffe doing their hearty best with contrived and derivative material which requires them to act against good sense – David Keyes’ hostage taker is a madman, so at least his unreasonable demand that the broken down bus be repaired without tools or knowledge can be excused – were it not for the constant swearing Shortcut would appear to be a misguided children’s film, The Famous Five Go To Hell, their suffering shared by the unfortunate viewer.
Shortcut will be released on digital platforms and DVD from Monday 29th March