Unless otherwise noted in the post title, these are not
reviews, per se. They are articles for people who have already seen the film or read the book in question--meaning that there will be spoilers. If you're already familiar with the material being covered, or don't mind the plot being spoiled, please read on and leave a comment.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review: Scenic Route (2013)

Two friends, Mitchell (Josh DuHamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler), are on a roadtrip through the desert
Theatrical Poster
when the truck breaks down. Carter has taken them so far off the beaten path that Mitchell can't even get a signal on his cellphone, and the road is so rarely traveled that they haven't seen another vehicle in hours. With nothing to do but wait, and tensions between them already running high, their friendly conversation quickly turns to a heated argument, and eventually a brutal physical confrontation.

Mitchell and Carter have been friends for a long time, but in recent years, Mitchell has grown up—he’s found a good job, gotten married, and had a child. Carter, on the other hand, has grown older but not wiser, and is very much the same person he was when the two first met. Rather than follow the traditional life path that society lays out, he has gone a different route: becoming, in his words, “a fat unemployed writer” who lives in his car. Carter resents Mitchell for selling out, and Mitchell keeps Carter at arm’s length for refusing to mature at a proper rate. They are, at the same time, both likable and unlikable, which makes them, at the very least, relatable.

Unlikely friends
As this is essentially a two-man show, it’s important that you believe in the characters. This is a very dialogue-driven film, with long stretches of nothing but verbal exchanges that vary from anecdotal to impassioned. SCENIC ROUTE is sometimes criticized because viewers don't believe that these two, with such wildly different world views, would be friends, but I bought into it without problem. Carter and Mitchell were friends ten years ago. Carter and Mitchell are not friends now, and neither are yet willing to accept that fact. That’s the very foundation of the movie. Without that central truth, none of what followed could have happened.

The two compare key rings like Hooper and Quint compare scars in JAWS, not to show what they’ve been through but to show where they are right now. Carter has two keys, and Hooper has more than he can even keep track of. As a means of measuring roots and responsibility, it’s cinematically inspired if not necessarily real-world relevant. And for the record, I'm tied with Carter—and I have a front door.

Bemoaning the mohawk
Reminiscing (the only way these two can even relate to each other anymore) leads to Mitchell longing for the simpler days—the days with fewer keys. In a last ditch effort to recapture that feeling of freedom, he throws caution to the wind and allows himself to be talked into an impromptu roadside haircut with the world’s tiniest pair of scissors. He emerges from the glare of the headlights with a bleeding scalp and a Travis Bickle mohawk. When Bickle presented his new ‘do, he became an Urban Warrior. Mitchell becomes a roadside version, though he doesn't yet realize it. He won't be fighting for what he thinks is right, though. He’ll be fighting only for survival, even if he doesn’t have the know-how to do a very good job of it.

This is a sunbaked descent into desperation, with occasional forays into madness and violence. The title may as well be TWO GUYS MAKING BAD DECISIONS, because that’s exactly what it is, one after another after another. It’s easy to say to yourself, I would never drink windshield washer fluid, and you may be right. It’s certainly not something you would do in your every day life, but who knows how you would react when the sun is beating down on you at 120°, and there’s nothing but scorched earth in every direction? It’s not a choice that everyone would make, but it's likely one that somebody would make. Those warning labels are there for a reason, people.

And it only gets worse from there.

This was a solid little thriller from start to finish, and though some take issue with the LOST-like ending, I wouldn't have it any other way. Kudos go to scriptwriter Kyle Killen, as well as directors Kevin and Michael Goetz (who are in production on the English-language remake of 2008’s MARTYRS), for having the skills to pull off what could have been a major disappointment in the hands of someone who didn't know how to handle the material.

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