Produced by Adam Sandler's spooky production company Scary Madison, Nicholaus Goossen's 2009 teen shocker "The Shortcut" is the sort of bland, inoffensive genre flick hypocritically conservative parents screen for pre-teen girls during summertime slumber parties. The film's a little too graphic and mature for the weak-bladdered "Goosebumps" set, though it's not nearly hardcore enough to satisfy those who've spent more time with horror movies than they have real people. The premise is certainly ripe with tasty possibility, and, in the hands of someone capable of delivering a tense, suspenseful motion picture, it might have been an effective little number. Sadly, but not surprisingly, its potential is never fully realized.
Of course, that's not to say Goossen is a lousy, woefully incompetent director. On the contrary, his 2006 stoner comedy "Grandma's Boy" is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, so much so that I actually purchased a copy of the soundtrack. However, when it comes to delivering the elements which constitute an engaging horror picture, the guy's cinematic abilities aren't quite up to snuff. "The Shortcut" is a misfire in almost every way imaginable, from its terribly clichéd characterization to it's epic failure of a finale. It's no wonder this thing arrived on DVD without so much as a whimper from Anchor Bay. It's release, I'm sure, was an act of pure obligation.
The story, an embarrassing combination of cheap scares and faux-hipster dialogue, feels painstakingly hand-crafted by a group of shady individuals who have spent their entire lives watching the sort of generic fluff that clogs basic cable around Halloween. I kept expecting commercial breaks, animated in-program advertisements pointing me in the general direction of the next episode of iCarly. Not once did I care that some creepy old guy with extreme social inadequacies was savagely slaughtering countless neighborhood pets, nor did I sympathize with the empty-headed morons who decided to investigate these bizarre crimes on their own. Given the movie's weak presentation, the whole bloody ordeal just seemed like a non-issue to me.
These feelings of unadulterated apathy may have a lot to do with the fact that Goossen is incapable of generating a single drop of suspense over the course of “The Shortcut.” There’s absolutely no mystery behind these unspeakable canine homicides; the individual ultimately responsible for this boring series of events is never a secret, a fact which drains the story of any tension whatsoever. Naturally, the prerequisite twist will be unearthed towards the tail end of the feature, though it does little to alter that uneasy sensation of bitter disappointment swimming painfully in your lower extremities. Nice try, though. Seriously.
To be fair, there might be a few minuscule nuggets of entertainment to be found if you’re completely ignorant of the genre as a whole. On the other hand, if you've seen anything remotely horrific in your lifetime, nothing in this film should come as a surprise to you. Additionally, the performances are light years away from falling short of impressive, but the plethora of third-string thespians assembled for this production do what they can to spice up their respective roles. Let’s face it: there’s really not a whole lot that can be done with characters that wouldn’t look out-of-place in an unaired episode of “Saved by the Bell.” Scott Sandler and Dan Hannon, hang your heads in shame.
It’s best to think of “The Shortcut” as a genre primer for kids whose parents aren’t quite ready to let them rent anything harder than PG-13. There are, I suppose, a few scares to be found if you’re completely uneducated in the wily ways of horror, though it’s probably nothing you haven’t already seen umpteen times on ABC Family or Nickelodeon at some point in your life. As the debut production from Scary Madison, the picture is an undeniable dud, not to mention one hell of a terrible first impression. If this is the sort of second-rate bilge the company intends to release, I doubt I’ll be back for seconds. In fact, forget “The Shortcut” altogether. Take the long way home and rent something worthwhile, instead.