Friday, October 18, 2013

Halloween 2013: Road Trip Horror ~ Scenic Route & Wind Chill

Scenic Route  (2013) is a film recently recommended to me by a friend and it happens to fit perfectly into this week's theme of road trip horror, because this is a prime example.

Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler) are two life-long friends who are on a road trip through, for an indeterminable reason, Death Valley.  When fate hits hard, Carter's old pick-up truck breaks down, leaving them in one of the hottest locations in the United States to be stuck in.  Tempers quickly flare and tension replaces nostalgia as the two bicker about the crippled vehicle and why this specific route was chosen in the first place.

When help arrives, Carter shoos them away hastily, and fesses up to Mitchell that he set the breakdown up by messing with some wires. Aghast, Mitchell begins cursing and demands to know why Carter - or anyone - would do such a thing, and in the desert to boot.  Carter tries to reason his way out of it by exclaiming that it was the only way he could get Mitchell's attention so that he could talk to him about the life choices Mitchell has made. 
Once determined to make it playing guitar for a living, Mitchell is now married to someone he impulsively hooked up with after a bad break-up and has ended up with a wife, a child, a mortgage, and a decent yet tedious career - all of which at first it seems Carter is insanely jealous of.  So he engineered the truck mishap to have some alone time with his BFF.

Unfortunately, when Carter attempts to reconnect the wires and get the truck moving again, it is no quick fix. In fact, it simply will not start. So there the two friends sit, in the scalding heat of a Death Valley afternoon, arguing.  Carter makes a case for the "old" Mitchell - the one who had dreams and ambitions, not the guy sitting beside him who settled for the ordinary.  Countering, Mitchell complains that Carter has never done anything with his life, that though he wants to be a writer he has no talent, has no permanent home, drives a piece of shit truck, and has no love in his life because of his actions.  The acting of the two leads here is so true to life and believable you may think you've heard yourself and your own bestie arguing the same exact points.

After long bouts of silence and Mitchell spending part of the night out in the desert cold, the two make amends (if only temporarily) and Mitchell confesses he recently cheated on his wife at a conference and admits his life is not what he had hoped. Honestly begins to show its face and soon they are laughing and Carter is cutting Mitchell's hair into a mohawk - something Mitchell always wanted but never had the guts to do.

But as the desert heat rises and the two run out of water, tensions rise and the inevitable fighting begins again. This time though, the quarrel escalates into a full-blown row, with harsh words and name calling that eventually becomes violent enough to come to blows.  The men attack each other with punching and kicking until Carter lies seemingly lifeless on the ground. At that point Mitchell reconsiders his life and the friendship (let alone the life ) he has possibly ended and when Carter does finally come around it becomes the entire film's turning point.

With all the arguing is out of the way, the film morphs into true survival mode.  The previous arguments and physical beatings seem very insignificant when you are fighting for your life.  The two men are out of food and water, are physically and emotionally drained, and there's not a soul in sight for miles.  They take to the desert on foot, intent on following the sun and finding their way out.

Both Duhamel and Fogler are pretty impressive here.  Fogler is the typical buffoon, the moronic best friend-type of guy who just sits around eating cheetos and strumming his ukelele and wishing his buddies didn't spend so much time with their wives. It can be overplayed, but Fogler does a decent job and is faithful to the stereotype. His Carter is so annoying at times that you think you might actually throw something at the television screen.  You've heard all his arguments before, but he'll tell you one more time anyway.  Duhamel is slightly more formidable, after having listened to his pal bitch about his wife, job, and the way he lives non-stop, he takes matters into his own hands, even using one of his crutches (from an ailment we know nothing about) to make his point.

In the end, Scenic Route is a power play between the two pals, both unable to completely let go of the things that keep them apart but equally as determined to keep their friendship alive. A road trip can already make or break a friendship, but throw in horrific conditions and bitter regrets and Death Valley isn't just the name of a park.


Wind Chill  (2007) is more than a road trip film, it has supernatural elements that make it slightly more spooky than just a run-of-the-mill horror story.  We've mentioned this film once before, in our Winter Horror feature - you can check out the wise words of James Gracey HERE. But for now, let me just say you could do worse than this little-known tale of road trip horror. 

Without the benefit of names, our characters are simply boy and girl.  Girl (Emily Blunt) is heading home from college for the holidays and finds a ride-share with Boy (Ashton Holmes).  Girl is nothing other than ill-natured and doesn't readily converse with Boy, whose attempts at getting to know her fall on deaf ears. 

As the two drive through the snowy landscape, they end up taking an off-the-main-route road that Boy says is a short cut. She argues with him about this decision, and becomes uneasy when she sees what looks like multiple crosses and grave sites along the sides of the road.  When another car comes barreling towards them, they swerve erratically to miss it and end up in a snowbank.

As if wrecking in a snowstorm on a deserted road isn't bad enough, the supernatural strangeness starts when, upon searching for help, they run into what can only be called ghostly corpses that are compelled to live out their otherworldly existence reliving their untimely demises over and over again. Even worse, Boy may not be who he says he is.  This road trip just barreled full force ahead into nothing less than the twilight zone.

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