Directed By: John Shiban
Starring: Jaimie Alexander, Joey Mendicino, Deanna Russo
Tag line: "The First Stop on the Road to Hell"
Trivia: This film had the added title Dead Ahead
Director John Shiban’s 2006 film, Rest Stop, tells the tale of a young couple, Jesse (Joey Mendicino) and Nicole (Jaimie Alexander), who are on their way to California. We’re given the impression (thanks to Nicole’s opening narration) that the two are leaving Texas behind to escape a bad situation, yet as they’ll soon discover, the open road can be even more hazardous to their health. Shortly after crossing the border into California, Nicole asks Jesse to pull over at a secluded rest stop, but when she emerges from the bathroom, Jesse and his car are nowhere to be found. This kicks off a deadly game of cat and mouse as Nicole, alone and confused, finds herself tormented by the driver of a yellow pick-up truck, who’s bound and determined to make her life a living hell. Pitted in a life-and-death struggle against a madman, Nicole quickly realizes that if she can’t summon up the strength to fight back, she’ll surely die.
Rest Stop is a hit-and-miss affair. There’s genuine tension in the story of Nicole’s battle for survival, and her run-ins with the yellow pick-up are heightened by the fact we never see the driver, who remains an enigma throughout the picture. Without delving too deeply into spoiler territory, I also liked how the movie took an occasional turn towards the supernatural, leading to some surprises, as well as a scare or two along the way. Where the film falters, unfortunately, is an area in which it needed to excel, and that’s the character of Nicole. The problem has nothing to do with Ms. Alexander, who delivers a fine performance, but instead lies with her character’s general inconsistencies, especially the way she reacts to danger, fighting her attacker off one minute, breaking down and crying the next, and often doing one when it would seem more appropriate she do the other. I also had a mixed reaction to a scene involving an RV and the very bizarre family living inside it. I smiled at how strange they all were, with a religious zealot for a father (Michael Childers), an oversexed mother (Diane Salinger), and a mutated dwarf in a wheelchair (Mikey Post), yet was left scratching my head once their brief appearance had ended, wondering why the filmmakers went to such lengths to build up their personalities, only to leave them woefully under-explored.
With a number of nail-biting sequences, Rest Stop effectively overcomes its various flaws, and while I’m certain you won’t count it among the elite of the new millennium’s horror offerings, it’s not a complete waste of your time, either.