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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Shortcut is a horror movie that pits five teens against a tunnel-dwelling monster. It's a low-budget, sometimes silly effort that has some iffy representations, but it also has an inspired DIY spirit -- and productive teamwork -- that could make it a candidate for a guilty pleasure. Violence includes teen characters frequently in peril, deaths, gun use, and a brief sequence showing teens covered in blood, plus additional bloody wounds, a scary monster, and other creepy/gross stuff. Language is also very strong and frequent, with tons of uses of "f--k" and "s--t," plus "bitch," "bastard," and more. A teen makes a suggestive sexual gesture (he makes a "V" with his fingers and licks). Problematic representations include stereotypical teen "types," a lack of meaningful diversity, and the fact that a Black character is the first one to die (a longtime horror movie cliché).
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What's the story?
In SHORTCUT, five teens -- brainy, bespectacled Queenie (Molly Dew); chubby Karl (Zander Emlano); rebellious Reggie (Zak Sutcliffe); pretty Bess (Sophie Jane Oliver); and Nolan (Jack Kane), who nurses a secret crush on Bess -- ride the school bus, driven by kind old Joseph (Terence Anderson). A fallen tree forces Joseph to take a shortcut, and when he steps out to remove a dead deer from the road, a gun-wielding psychopath (David Keyes) hijacks the bus. Later, the bus stalls out in a long tunnel. Before long, a terrifying, savage creature attacks. The teens discover that it's sensitive to light, and they make their escape into a maze of more underground tunnels. There, they discover the secret behind the creature. But can they come up with a decent plan and make their escape?
Is it any good?
This monster tale is by no means good in the traditional sense, but it's scrappy, late-night, popcorn-munching, guilty fun, driven by DIY teen power, old-fashioned scares, and creepy music. Shot in Italy (like so many other low-budget horror classics), Shortcut has virtually nothing in it that hasn't been used in hundreds of horror movies before. It makes mistakes (a "total lunar eclipse" is mentioned prominently at the beginning and then forgotten), and it's sometimes silly. But it's a pleasingly compact, simple idea with just a few characters, locations, and props. It also has that special spirit of a movie made by and for horror fans, on the cheap, using ingenuity, duct tape, and bailing wire to hold it all together.
Shortcut does make the shameful misstep of reviving that old cliché of killing a Black character first. Another unfortunate stereotype involves the overweight Karl, who behaves in a way that's meant to be seen as cowardly and always talks about food. But on the whole, the teen characters are a spirited, Goonies/Stranger Things-like bunch. Often in movies like this, we get a batch of "types" who wouldn't actually be friends in real life, but this time the grouping at least makes sense, since they're all stuck riding the bus together. The partly lit tunnels (with eerie patterns of light) are an inspired location, the practical monster is actually pretty scary, and the pulsing, electronic score of course recalls favorite classics of the 1970s and '80s. Best of all, Shortcut moves fast and light enough that it makes its flaws easy to shrug off.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Shortcut. Is it scary? Shocking? How does the movie achieve those reactions?
What's the appeal of horror movies? Why do people sometimes like being scared?
Is the Karl a stereotype? Why or why not?
Why is it harmful to perpetuate the horror movie cliché of a Black character being the first one to die?
How do the characters use teamwork to succeed? Does it fail at any point?
- On DVD or streaming: September 25, 2020
- Cast: Jack Kane, Zak Sutcliffe, Sophie Jane Oliver
- Director: Alessio Liguori
- Studio: Gravitas Ventures
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 80 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout and some bloody images
- Last updated: October 5, 2020
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