Genre: Horror and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min.
Release Date: May 13th, 2016 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jeremy Saulnier Actors: Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, David W. Thompson, Mark Webber, Macon Blair, Eric Edelstein, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart
iger (Callum Turner) falls asleep at the wheel of his van, causing it to veer into a field. His Arlington bandmates (composing the group “The Ain’t Rights”), including Sam (Alia Shawkat), Pat (Anton Yelchin), and Reece (Joe Cole), clamor out of the vehicle to find that the engine was left on and that the gas has been depleted. Bicycling to a nearby parking lot, Sam and Pat siphon some gas to get them the rest of the 90 miles to their destination – a small town where they can be interviewed by Tad (David W. Thompson) for a college radio station. They’re also supposed to perform, but the show is canceled, leaving them with a shortage of cash and limited means to go any further on their tour.
But Tad is able to scrounge up a last-minute gig further south, with $350 attached to it, though the crowd is supposed to contain some rather tough, ultra left-wing (skinheads, in particular) characters. Though “cousin” Daniel (Mark Webber) and associate Gabe (Macon Blair) get the band prepped for the stage, their choice in heavy metal songs upsets the crowd one minute, then amuses them the next. Their set isn’t really the issue, however; an incident in the green room leaves a woman with a knife in her head, which the foursome accidentally witnesses. The cops are called, but the building’s proprietors attempt to control the situation, holding the band, along with a young woman, Amber (Imogen Poots), at gunpoint. And then the owner, Darcy (Patrick Stewart), is called in.
The setup is fairly brief, with the band held hostage before they – and the audience – really know what has happened. The tension then ratchets up pretty quickly, with a stand-off posing plenty of opportunities for things to deteriorate. And they definitely do. The premise is simple but the thrills consistent, particularly as these twenty-something protagonists are remarkably out of their element and completely unprepared for the horrors that await. And their opponents are exceptionally unpredictable personas – the kind likely to engage in any form of spontaneous violence. There aren’t any rules once the police are out of the picture – and when the villains are defined as uncompromisingly murderous and brutal.
“I hope you appreciate the situation.” Patrick Stewart is incredibly understated in his performance, which is effective yet somewhat disappointing, considering that this infrequent theatrical turn provided an occasion to play an extremely against-type role. Over-the-top could have even been more appropriate, since it would have been drastically different that what viewers anticipated. Instead, his baddie is chilling but reserved and still unmistakably Patrick Stewart. As for the unwitting heroes, several of them exhibit impressive resourcefulness – but in a desperate, realistic way – utilizing guerrilla warfare tactics that would make Rambo proud.
But despite the film’s expert maneuvering of suspense and shocks, there’s a reliance on graphic violence that essentially didn’t need to be present, especially since a few white-knuckle sequences take place offscreen or are shrouded in shadows. The gore cheapens the thrills, since the brunt of it takes place early on, commandeering the uneasiness to focus on the next possibility for bloodshed rather than genuine dread; it becomes all about visceral scares instead of psychological ones. Nevertheless, director Jeremy Saulnier (“Blue Ruin”) is certainly a rising force in crafting commonplace scenarios that spiral terrifyingly out of control.
– Mike Massie