There's just something about a filmmaker named Christopher that--when they've got a new movie out--I get weak in the knees. It's not likely that Nolan will be trampling deep within the horror genre anytime soon, but there is one Chris that has spent most of his career dabbling within it. Christopher Smith isn't nearly a household name as of yet and it's a travesty. With the exception of Get Santa (his children's holiday flick that I can't bring myself to watch) Smith's filmography has nary a blemish.
Flying mostly under the radar to this point, Smith's horror resume includes the likes of Creep, Severance, Triangle and Black Death. It's been six years since Black Death was released and his latest, Detour, doesn't find him diving into the deep end of genre, but he does splash around a bit in the shallow end.
Try to resist the urge to abandon ship when you see the baby faced Tye Sheridan in the lead role as Harper, an angsty law student with an ax to grind against his stepdad, Vincent (Stephen Moyer). Harper believes that Vincent is responsible for purposely crashing the car that landed his mother in a coma and clinging to life. Drunk and emotional Harper catches the unhinged glare of Johnny (Emory Cohen) and enters into an inebriated agreement--that Johnny will accompany Harper to Vegas with one goal in mind...killing Vincent. Naive revenge meets ghetto organized crime...what could go wrong?
To this point Smith's MO has been twisty plots with chaotic and surehanded pacing. Think of him as M. Night Shyamalan if M. Night had the proclivity for hallucinogens. To date, Triangle is easily his most mind bending, but Detour flirts with deja vu. To clarify, they are not the same movie by any means, but the pacing and style in which Smith doles out info are strikingly similar. The use of split screens early on invite shades of alternate universes in which Harper is making completely opposite decisions and watching how those moments blend in with the plot later on are just Smith being Smith. Whether or not you catch on to where the filmmaker is leading you is irrelevant to enjoying the story as a whole--not predicting the "twists" are just all the delicious toppings on an already sweet dessert.
Sheridan is...well Sheridan. He's a difficult to enjoy actor (might be a personal preference--maybe I envy his youth...who knows) and the early scenes in the bar are indicative of that. It's tough to buy that the kid is old enough to be in college, let alone be sipping on whiskey alone in a bar as opposed to doing keg stands at a frat party. Pushing that aside, he holds his own well enough, but its Cohen who carries the film. It's problematic only because his character is so volatile--spending entire scenes smacking his female companion Cherry (Bel Powley) around and saying any sexist thing that comes into his head. Cohen is a force of nature though--a rabid dog off his leash and as the viewer you just watch to see what he does next. Still, it's the way Smith handles tension and pace that acts as a character in and of itself. Playful writing and intense confrontations permeate each scene from beginning to end and it's nearly impossible to not lose yourself in the worlds Smith creates.
Enduring lengthy gaps is no doubt frustrating when you zero in on a filmmaker that you thoroughly enjoy. If Christopher Smith isn't already on your list of directors to watch then first off..what's wrong with you? Secondly, get caught up and join the ranks immediately. In genre terms, following up Black Death is not an easy task, but Detour is a welcome departure on a familiar road. Here's hoping another six year hiatus is out of the question.