Christopher Smith’s grand return to FrightFest, the festival that made him, isn’t quite up to the same scratch as some of his more splatter-happy efforts.
Whipping its title and a little of its plotting from Edgar G. Ulmer’s classic noir B-movie, Detour for starters, feels a whole lot more amateurish than Smith’s earlier stuff. Creep, Severance and Triangle were all past genre faves in one way or another, and boasted plenty of fairly clever twists, whilst this latest, a stab at a fairly rigid classic crime formula, only really has one. And we’ve seen it many, many times before.
X-Men star Tye Sheridan leads as a law student who finds himself drunkenly agreeing to a murder pact with an unstable criminal (Emory Cohen) to off his supposedly abusive stepfather (Stephen Moyer), leading the pair and, for some reason stripper Bel Powley, on a cross-country road-trip to make it happen.
Where things get a little more gimmicky though is when, roughly half an hour in, Smith splits the narrative straight down the middle, offering a Sliding Doors-esque twist that sees one Sheridan dash off to Vegas with murderer entow, and another, parallel Sheridan, change his mind, only to get into some fairly dark business anyway. Quite why this divide takes place is never really clear, but of course it becomes mind-numbingly obvious very quickly that despite the director’s best efforts, it really doesn’t work at all.
As you would no doubt expect, the more adventurous of the two narratives ends up taking point and the other spends the rest of the running time feeling more like a half-baked after thought than a fully-fleshed plot in itself. The already underrated Moyer sees his role cut to ribbons and Sheridan himself, although fairly competent throughout, often seems just as confused as we are.
Powley is the real star, offering a slice of something a little deeper to an otherwise relatively cut and dry character overall, and to be fair to Smith, between the watchable cast and a few dashes of ingenuity here and there, Detour isn’t exactly a train wreck by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that there’s a whole bunch of far, far better neo-noirs out there beyond this one.
Drive, Brick, Blood Simple, hell even Blade Runner; some serious classics all fall into this 40s-influenced bracket of fast-talking, clever-themed crime mysteries, so to be worth a decent shoutout you really need to pull of something impressive, and Detour just simply doesn’t. Too basic visually, too off-key tonally, and too heavy-handed with its attempts to shake things up narratively; a low-budget doesn’t always equal less inventive or less original, but here Smith certainly makes his case for it.
It’s a disappointing back-step for a director who we admittedly haven’t seen anything particularly bright from in some years now. Here’s hoping things come together again soon; we need this bright British spark back in the saddle ASAP.
Detour was screened as part of HorrorChannel FrightFest Glasgow 2017 but currently has no UK release scheduled.