Shuttle


With air travel, getting home safely after landing can be the hardest part.

With air travel, getting home safely after landing can be the hardest part.

(2008) Horror (Truly Indie) Tony Curran, Peyton List, Cameron Goodman, Cullen Douglas, Dave Power, James Snyder, Tom Kemp, Kaylan Tracey, Jen Alison Lewis, James Ryen, Jackie Cowls, Roy Souza, Michael DeMello, Skip Shea, Ylian Alfaro Snyder. Directed by Edward Anderson

2am on a rainy night in L.A. Two beautiful young girls are just landing at the airport after a vacation on the Mexican Riviera. Not a taxi in sight but there is a minibus that is willing to take them wherever they want to go, a parking lot shuttle. From such things horror stories are made.

Said girls are Mel (List) the smart brunette and Jules (Goodman) the flirty brunette. They’re tired and they want to get home and the shuttle looks like their best bet. They aren’t alone though – there are a couple of hunky guys – Matt (Power) and Seth (J. Snyder) who are hoping to pick up on the girls who aren’t particularly interested and a kind of nerdy guy (Douglas) already aboard. There’s also the driver (Curran) who seems friendly enough – at first.

Soon though he’s driving down strange streets in empty, lonely industrial districts. When the minibus gets a flat, there is a little bit of concern but what happens after that turns concern into outright terror.

First-time director Anderson takes a nifty concept and takes it out for a spin with mixed results. The young actors, mostly unknown (although List has an extensive TV background with a good run on The Young and the Restless as well as major roles on shows like Mad Men, The Tomorrow People, Windfall and FlashForward) are solid throughout and Curran does particularly well as the driver who becomes increasingly menacing and creepy.

The violence here can be fairly extreme although it isn’t particularly gory which might disappoint horror fans who like their violence bloody and disgusting. And the sexuality, the other mainstay of horror films, while definitely present may not be enough for the liking of some horror buffs. What Anderson does extremely well is create an atmosphere of tension and suspense. While there are a few too many scenes of the minibus driving aimlessly down empty streets (and unnecessarily as it turns out), what’s happening aboard the bus is always compelling.

Not so the ending which when it comes almost seems like the filmmakers had come up against some sort of time constraint and had to cease production, so they cobbled a quickly shot ending together on the fly. It is most unsatisfying and drops a pretty decent suspense horror film down a whole point.

Needless to say this is more of a good try than a good film. I liked it enough to keep an eye on Anderson for future projects although I can’t quite bring myself to recommend his first film wholeheartedly. Nonetheless for a first effort it certainly is much better than a lot of first time films than I’ve seen.

WHY RENT THIS: Nicely atmospheric. Nifty premise.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sex and violence kind of disappointing. Ending kind of abrupt and unsatisfying.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some fairly graphic violence as well as brief nudity and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film premiered at the South by Southwest film festival in 2008.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is video of the casting sessions.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1,925 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hostel

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Love Birds

The Prisoner: or, How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair


Yunis Khatayer Abbas awaits arrest in the front yard of his home.

Yunis Khatayer Abbas awaits arrest in the front yard of his home.

(2006) Documentary (Truly Indie/Magnolia) Yunis Khatayer Abbas, Benjamin Thompson. Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker

In the miasma that was the U.S. involvement in Iraq, it wasn’t uncommon for overeager American military intelligence to arrest and detain Iraqi citizens who had done nothing wrong. It is not unusual for an occupying force to behave with paranoia; after all, it is actually true that the population is out to get them.

Such was the case of Yunis Khatayer Abbas, a respected journalist who had been imprisoned by the Saddam Hussein regime for expressing views critical of the regime. We see Abbas in an anonymous hotel room, dignified and dapper, his goatee flecked with grey but his eyes much younger than that as he describes (and we see footage of) his arrest at the hands of American military forces. Along with two brothers, Abbas is accused of conspiring to assassinate Tony Blair, then the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Abbas would be held for over nine months in the notorious Abu Gharib prison. During that time he would undergo a goodly number of inquisitions and some torture both mental and physical. He would also be befriended by Thompson, an American soldier on duty in Abu Gharib who utilized Abbas as a translator – his English is in the main flawless although from time to time he makes the occasional syntax error. Thompson, who gradually comes to believe that Abbas is innocent of the crimes he is accused of, tries unsuccessfully to get Abbas released but as with all things military the wheels grind slowly.

Filmmakers Tucker and Epperlein (who are married in real life) first met Abbas during the filming of their previous documentary Gunner Palace about American troops stationed in the lavish palace of Uday Hussein. They augment their footage with home video footage and cartoon-like animations that are as amusing as they are unsettling.

The story itself is very compelling as we witness a man who supports the United States protest his innocence over and over again as those who provide the faulty intelligence that put him in prison refuse to admit they were wrong even though all the evidence seems to indicate that they are; nonetheless they are forced to cover their ass and hope that Abbas is broken into confessing that he is a terrorist. Abbas however never breaks and by the film’s end you’ll wind up admiring the man’s quiet dignity.

Like many documentaries, there is an inordinate time viewing the interviews with the subject and despite the bells and whistles added here, there just really isn’t a way to make a talking head all that interesting. Overcoming that, the story and the personality of Abbas will stay with you and lead you to once again question our involvement in this country and the methods we used while we were there. It will come to pass that someday down the line it will be a time and events that our descendants will not be proud of.

WHY RENT THIS: Compact and tight. Compelling story with nice cartoon-like visuals.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too much talking head footage.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the language is a bit rough and there are some fairly mature thematic elements.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The initial arrest, shown here, was filmed during the directors’ last documentary Gunner Palace.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3,103 during its domestic release; overseas numbers and production budget unavailable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Standard Operating Procedure

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Son of No One