Editor’s note: Jay of the Dead is the host of Horror Movie Podcast and Movie Podcast Weekly. He has been a print and online film critic since 2006, and he has been podcasting about movies since 2010. Jay of the Dead’s horror movie reviews do not contain spoilers.
There are some things that we horror fans just don’t say aloud. Not everyone feels this way, but I believe many of us don’t like to admit that our beloved horror genre is judged by different standards. This isn’t a criticism or a failing of the genre, necessarily; it’s just that horror’s filmmaking emphases lie in other places than those of most other genres. For example, we are often more lenient on a horror film’s performances if the special effects are decent.
[ Side note: For me, personally, it’s all about the premise and the execution of story that’s carrying out that premise. If the concept is scary to me, then my heart is in it. ]
Every once in a while we feel we can rightfully complain that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has altogether snubbed something remarkable from the horror genre, such as James Whale’s “Frankenstein” (1931), Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” (1973) or even “The Shining” (1980) by director Stanley Kubrick, who was not only passed over for Best Director by The Academy; he was nominated for a stupid Razzie Award for “Worst Director.” The irony.
All of this lengthy preamble just to say, despite the fact that “Rest Stop” (2006) was a direct-to-video release, there are relatively few things “wrong” with this film, if we’re viewing it through the somewhat apologetic lens of a horror movie. Don’t misunderstand me. To be clear, I’m actually offering praise to this movie, though it is “qualified praise.”
(Note: This film has added a subtitle and is now commonly known as “Rest Stop: Dead Ahead,” perhaps to further distinguish it from its sequel, “Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back” (2008). But I am a stickler for the “official title,” which I assert is determined from the film’s opening title card — if it has one — or else the title presented at the end of the film during the credits.)
Somehow, I had actually overlooked “Rest Stop” when it was first released until I learned about it from one of my all-time favorite episodes of any podcast: In January 2011, my friend, GregaMortis, released Episode 30 of The Creepture Feature Horror Show, on which he and others (including HMP’s very own Dr. Shock) listed off their Top 10 Best Horror Movies of the 2000s decade. GregaMortis ranked “Rest Stop: Dead Ahead” as his No. 8 pick.
Here’s the premise: Jaimie Alexander plays Nicole, a wayward young woman who runs away from her home in Argyle, Texas, traveling toward Los Angeles with her boyfriend, Jesse, who’s an aspiring actor. But when they visit a rest stop somewhere in rural California, a mysterious antagonist in a yellow and white pickup truck begins to prey upon them. When Nicole returns from the restroom, her boyfriend, Jesse, is nowhere to be found, thus beginning her life-and-death struggle for survival.
“Rest Stop” would be classified as a supernatural slasher flick. The killer appears to be some redneck dude in a pickup truck, but there is much more going on at this rest stop than mere stalking. “Rest Stop” is like a blend between “Duel” (1971) and something like “Wind Chill” (2007) or “Dead End” (2003). I would note that “Rest Stop” has some gore and a few quick torture scenes, so at times it has a similar tone to “The Hills Have Eyes” (2006). In short, “Rest Stop” is sort of like a hard-core “Twilight Zone” episode that skews pretty dark.
Jaimie Alexander has become a fairly recognizable starlet of late, with prominent roles in Marvel’s “Thor” movies, “The Last Stand” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and most recently in the new NBC TV series, “Blindspot.” She mostly does a fine job in “Rest Stop,” though one of the movie’s most blatant problems is all the thinking out loud and talking to herself that the script requires her to do. It’s clunky, distracting and very artificial but probably not Alexander’s fault. Sure, Tom Hanks can talk to himself throughout “Cast Away” and pull it off, but his dialogue was better. And he had Wilson, the volleyball.
But for a horror film, “Rest Stop” delivers the goods. There is an unforgettable moment that’s truly cringe-inducing that has to do with a tongue-snipping — or removal. It’s brutal, along with a few other horrific scenes that are worth your time.
Overall, I’d rate “Rest Stop: Dead Ahead” a 7 out of 10, and I’d call it a strong rental recommendation for horror fans.
Admittedly, I’m typically not into supernatural horror as much as other sub-genres. Having confessed that, the supernatural aspects of this film are unexplained and mysterious. And that’s good, I suppose. But it’s notable that I had the time and the opportunity to watch the sequel, “Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back,” back-to-back with this primary film, and I just didn’t have the desire to see any more of these characters or this world at that time. I will probably check out the sequel — perhaps even this month — but my lack of enthusiasm tells me that I wasn’t overly engaged with this particular brand of monster.
—Jay of the Dead
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