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Rest Stop (February 11/07)

Though certainly a cut above the majority of its straight-to-video horror brethren, Rest Stop is ultimately undone by the inclusion of several questionable elements - with the film's flat-out baffling conclusion the most obvious example of this. The admittedly conventional storyline follows a young couple (Jaimie Alexander's Nicole and Joey Mendicino's Jess) as they embark on a road trip from Texas to California and subsequently run afoul of a faceless maniac in a pickup truck. There's little doubt that Rest Stop works best in its opening half hour, as writer/director John Shiban effectively establishes the movie's characters and old-school tone (in terms of the latter, Shiban's thankfully decided to eschew the slick visuals of most contemporary horror flicks and has instead infused the film with a '70s-era vibe). The introduction of a quirky, ultra-religious family that could only exist in a B-movie marks the point at which Rest Stop begins to go off the rails, with Shiban's sporadic use of supernatural elements certainly not helping matters. The introduction of a hapless state trooper (played by erstwhile sitcom star Joseph Lawrence) temporarily elevates the proceedings (there's a long, Saw-esque sequence in which Nicole and Lawrence's character find themselves trapped in a dilapidated bathroom), although the frustratingly vague finale essentially obliterates any positive feelings one might've had about the whole thing.

out of

Sublime (April 3/07)

While Sublime does benefit from a reasonably intriguing premise, the film's execution leaves a whole lot left to be desired; first-time filmmaker Tony Krantz has infused the proceedings with a surreal, David-Lynch-on-drugs sensibility that immediately proves to be disastrous. Tom Cavanagh stars as George Grieves, an affable family man who checks into Mt. Abaddon Hospital for a routine colonoscopy and soon finds himself embroiled in a confusing conspiracy involving mysterious doctors, ancient mysteries, and one unreasonably sinister orderly. Cavanagh's surprisingly effective performance aside, Sublime is uniformly lacking in competent elements - to such an extent that the film remains an unusually tedious and thoroughly infuriating experience over the course of its egregiously overlong running time (113 minutes!) Erik Jendresen's frustratingly abstruse screenplay doesn't even attempt to make a lick of sense, and the scripter seems more concerned with offering up increasingly mind-boggling asides (including a laughable and utterly absurd sequence in which George is accosted by the aforementioned sinister orderly) than with creating interesting characters or a story worth following. Krantz's use of grainy, high-contrast visuals only cements Sublime's status as an unpleasant and flat-out unwatchable piece of work, and it's hard to imagine even the most enthusiastic horror buff finding much of anything worth embracing here.

no stars out of

Rest Stop: Don't Look Back (October 13/08)

Rest Stop: Don't Look Back establishes itself as superior to its agreeable yet frustratingly baffling predecessor almost immediately, as the film offers up a prologue that explains the origins of the mysterious figures - the sadistic trucker and oddball religious family - that dominated the original. Stripped of the David Lynchian weirdness that marred the first film, Rest Stop: Don't Look Back ultimately comes off as an above average straight-to-video horror effort. The movie picks up about a year after the events of Rest Stop, with a trio of characters (Richard Tillman's Tom, Jessie Ward's Marilyn, and Graham Norris' Jared) embarking on a quest to find out just what happened to their missing friends - with their efforts inevitably (and expectedly) thwarted by the demonic phantoms haunting the eponymous destination. Director Shawn Papazian has infused the proceedings with a gritty sensibility that admittedly suits John Shiban's screenplay, while the various actors are generally effective at separating themselves from their underwhelming horror-movie brethren (this is despite the fact that Norris is trapped within the confines of an eye-rollingly over-the-top - and far from sympathetic - walking cliche). And although one can't help but lament the absence of Jaimie Alexander this time around, Rest Stop: Don't Look Back's creative kill sequences and comparatively satisfactory conclusion (it makes sense, at least) ensure that it remains a cut above its disappointing forebearer.

out of

About the DVDs: Warner Bros. offers up unrated cuts of both Rest Stop and Sublime, while bonus features are relatively sparse (Rest Stop: three deleted scenes and a few featurettes; Sublime: a commentary track and a featurette). Rest Stop: Don't Look Back arrives on Blu-ray armed with an absolutely stunning transfer, although bonus features are entirely non-existent.
© David Nusair