I’m in a pickle here — one of those Vlassic motherfuckers that sit in the back of your fridge and ferment in year-old vinegar. The biggest selling point in Shuttle is its ending, but if I give it away, you’ll have no reason to watch. But if I don’t give it away, I don’t know that I can otherwise persuade you to sit through it (currently in select indie theaters, and out in DVD in April). And honestly, I’d really like someone else to watch Shuttle so that they can explain the ending to me. Either Shuttle is the most profound horror film in years, or one of the dumbest. I can’t tell. I think that Shuttle is trying to make a political statement, and if that’s true, it’s going about doing so in a bizarrely bloody round-about way. But then again, how many horror flicks actually attempt to work in a ripped-from-the-headlines punchline?
Add to that the fact that it’s been so long since I’ve seen a decent horror flick that I’m not sure I can recognize one anymore. I forget: If you yell at the characters for an hour and forty-five minutes, reminding them of how stupid they are, does that make it a decent horror flick? Or a ridiculous one? At the very least, it makes it an engaging one, right? I cared enough about most of the characters to loudly advise them, point out the error of their ways, and beg them to avoid their inevitable demise. “You dumbass!” I would yell. “You know he’s going to kill you now ,don’t you? What the fuck is wrong with you? If there’s a mad man with a gun driving you around a desolate city late at night, surely you know better than to light a flare in the back of the airport shuttle, right? The movie’s still got 80 minutes to go! He’s got no choice but to kill you!” Today’s youth! Hmph. Clearly, they just don’t understand genre conventions anymore — if you’re going to step out of line, wait until the final five minutes, after nearly everyone else has died. At least then you have a chance..
In Shuttle, an airport shuttle driver (Tony Curran) coaxes two young, attractive women — best friends (Peyton List and Cameron Goodman) returning from a trip to Mexico — into his van, promising them a cheaper rate and a lollipop. Meanwhile, two other men (Dave Power and James Snyder) trying to angle their way into some late night hair pie follow them onto the shuttle, where there’s already a strange, timid businessman (Cullen Douglas) waiting for his ride downtown. The driver, naturally, takes a detour; he gets a flat-tire, one of the men loses four fingers trying to change it, the other man gets a hot head and loses a nose, and then things start to get weird. Although it’s strangely convenient that a major city, in this case Boston, has nary a soul out at night to help our victims, who certainly make enough fuss along their route to alert would-be passersby.
It’s a hard movie to describe — it’s not quite horror, but it’s barely a thriller. It’s a slasher road pic, somewhere between Red Eye and Joyride. Written and directed by Edward Anderson, Shuttle contains a heady mix of brutality and suspense, although there’s not enough gore to satisfy most hard-core horror-movie fans. It drags in part, and far too often seems to be coasting toward a conclusion, only to drift into another act. What it does best, however, is to nag at your curiosity — it pulls you along, not because the killer is particularly compelling (he’s not), or because the characters are particularly likable (they’re not), or because the mayhem is particularly fun to watch (it is), but because you want to know the psychopath’s intentions. It becomes evident early on that there’s something more to it than a robbery; neither is it the simple, blind craziness that drives most horror movie villains.
There’s definitely a purpose behind the kidnapping, and behind the selective murders, and one that you are keen to understand. Anderson deftly builds up the suspense behind those motivations, but ultimately backs himself into a corner, where he’s forced to offer up a dénouement that’s bigger than the film can reasonably hold. It’s akin to finding out that Jason Voorhies’ killings weren’t motivated by revenge, but by PETA. There’s an absurd humor in the notion, but that’s a square peg that doesn’t exactly fit into a round hole of dread.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in Portland, Maine. You can email him or leave a comment below.