Rest Stop

Director: John Shiban   
Jaimie Alexander, Joey Mendicino, Joey Lawrence

Several months ago in a past movie review of mine, I stated that I needed a vacation, but I came to the conclusion that not only could I not get enough time off from my job and this web site to take a vacation, that there were potential problems that could come up during a vacation. But since then, I have kept dreaming of taking a vacation that's hassle-free in any way you could think of. I mentioned that one such vacation I was thinking of taking would be across the strait to Vancouver for a few days, but I didn't mention that such a vacation would not be my ideal vacation. My ideal vacation is not Florida, the Caribbean or even Hawaii. The vacation I have dreamed about the most and longest has been to the desert country located in the southwestern United States. If you're wondering if it is because of my love of westerns, you are right - I would love to jump into a car and tour the entire area, and visit places like Tombstone and the Monument Valley. But there are several things that are stopping me from doing so. One of these things is that I don't have a car, and I would have to go to the hassle of finding a suitable car, buying it, getting insurance, and finding a place to park it (in my neighborhood, there is no such thing as free parking.) If somehow I was able to solve all of those problems, there is a bigger problem still in store for me. You might be thinking that I don't have a driver's license, but I do. The problem is that since I got my license, I haven't once driven a car - that was over fifteen years ago, and I have forgotten how to drive! The only thing I use my license for is for I.D. purposes.

Even if I got a car and learned how to drive again, there are still potential problems that could happen to me on a trip. The biggest potential problem is that I would be too afraid to use a rest stop should I want to snack on a lunch that I packed, or if the call of nature come up, or something else that made it necessary for me to stop. Let me explain. When I was a child, my parents on weekends would sometimes take me and my siblings on an hour-long trip to a larger city so we could do some shopping. On one of those trips, my mother pointed out a rest stop and told us that years earlier, when my brother was a baby, my parents stopped there to give my brother a diaper change. This fact seemed very amusing to my sister and myself, so on subsequent trips to the big city, whenever we passed the rest stop, my sister and I would sing out loud that this was where our brother got his diaper changed. This went on for several years. Then one day, on our trip back to our hometown, I got into a bad situation. I had to go to the bathroom - badly! We stopped in a small town on the way so I could use a restaurant's bathroom, but the restaurant didn't have public washrooms. I was getting desperate. So we continued on until we came to a rest stop (not the same one where my brother got his diaper changed.) It only had a garbage can, no outhouses. No, I didn't use the garbage can, but I had to hike into the nearby woods to do my business. As you probably guessed, my brother took this incident with great glee, and the next time we passed that spot, he sang that this is where I... did my business.

The incident traumatized me, and I swore I would never again go to a rest stop. I think many of you will agree with me that a lot of them are not desirable places anyway, with filthy and smelly outhouses and picnic tables all covered with the leavings of birds. They also seem to be creepy places for the most part, located in the middle of nowhere with few or none other people around for comfort. And what kind of wild animals are hiding in the bushes just a few feet away? As I said, such places are not very desirable to visit. But when I was recently in my neighborhood video store and I saw a copy of the horror movie Rest Stop, I decided to give it a whirl in my DVD machine. Since rest stops repulse me, that suggested that a horror movie centered around a rest stop would be very effective to me. I was also interested in the fact that this straight-to-video Warner Brothers release (one of their first) was unrated. How times have changed. It seems just a few years ago that Warner Brothers kept publicly proclaiming its policy of not releasing anything higher than an "R" rating; the director's cut of Natural Born Killers, for one thing, was originally released by another label. (Though strangely during this period, Warner Brothers did release True Romance in an unrated version.) I also found it strange that, during my research online, I found that the censored "R" rated cut of this movie was more expensive than the unrated version. But as I said, I got the unrated version, and that's what I am reviewing. (Snort, "R-rated versions"...)

The set-up of Rest Stop goes as follows: In Texas, a couple of young people, Jess (Mendicino, The 70s House) and Nicole (Alexander, Kyle XY), begin the movie by leaving their small town and heading on a road trip to California where they plan to break into show business as actors. When they reach California, they are traveling along the back roads and are lost. Nicole needs to use the bathroom, so they stop at the next rest stop they reach. When Nicole exits the bathroom and heads back, she not only finds Jess is gone, but their car is gone as well. She is stranded all alone... but soon finds out that they is someone... or something... out there nearby. Not a totally original premise - echoes of past horror movies can be seen here - but I usually don't mind lack of originality if the rest of the movie is well done. And there are several things about Rest Stop that I can say are done well.  For one thing, I liked that it was photographed with the colors slightly washed-out. Normally this often-used technique of modern directors bugs the hell out of me - I say either photograph the movie in full color or in black and white, not something in between. But here, this technique reminded me of horror movies shot in the 1970s, when color in films was often not as vibrant as today, and it was a nice nostalgic touch. The other production values show care as well. The rest stop (where just about all the movie takes place) is utterly convincing, from the disgusting-looking bathroom interior to the overgrown grass and weeds outside that all together suggest this place has been here for ages and is well past its prime.

Also, the opening scenes with the characters Jess and Nicole give the movie a promising start. There is a kind of a improvised feel to these scenes, and it's almost like we are seeing real people in action instead of actors simply spouting off their lines. But once the movie gets to the rest stop and Jess disappear, things quickly go downhill from there. Let me pause my review of the movie to give you, dear reader a quiz. If you and your loved one stopped at a rest stop and he or she disappeared, and a search of the immediate area revealed that your loved one (or anyone else) was nowhere to be found, what would you do? Would you (1) Hike the short distance to the main road to try and flag down a car, with the knowledge that only a few travelers bother to stop at a rest stop, or (2) Hang around the rest stop and hope that someone stops by? If no one comes around after some time would you (1) Immediately break into the rest stop's ranger station to use the radio, or (2) Wait several more hours until it's nighttime to do so? If you were a cop, and a frantic woman told you that a man in a truck a few feet away was a crazy killer, would you (1) Approach the man in the truck with caution and your gun drawn, or (2) Approach the man in the truck like it's just a routine traffic stop? If a crazed killer just a few feet away had badly injured the cop that was helping you, would you (1) Immediately pull out his gun and use it to defend the cop and yourself, or (2) Slowly drag the cop into the rest stop's bathroom, and not pull out his gun until he reminds you of it?

If you answered "2" to those four questions, then stop reading and immediately head to the video store to rent Rest Stop - this movie was made for you. Actually, I am pretty confident that the vast majority of readers who visit this web site have a shred of common sense in their brains, and will find this movie as utterly stupid as I did. I think in the past I have explained why having stupid characters in a movie is so damaging - if they are idiots, why should we care about them? On the other hand, if they do what we'd do, and their actions are unsuccessful, we can feel their dread and picture ourselves in the situation; that's one way to build a feeling of dread in a horror movie. Rest Stop isn't just dumb with its characters, however. There are a number of other groaners in the movie, like one scene where a thin pool of gasoline, when it is ignited, results in a gigantic explosion with the force of several sticks of dynamite. The movie tries to explain a lot of the implausible things that happen by hinting that the danger in the area isn't caused by a human, but instead by some kind of supernatural danger, but this simply doesn't work. The movie wants us to believe that this particular supernatural force of evil can do anything, not just stuff like being a voice on a radio, but much more complex stuff like working a camcorder (though still having a shaky hand when using it), or conjuring up a RV that can carry the heroine over long distances. I could go on and on about this movie's stupidity and implausibility, but I need my own kind of rest stop, so I'll just leave it at this and retire to my TV chair to watch something more intelligent.

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See also: Death Weekend, Nightmare At Noon, Route 666