'Shuttle' delivers suspense
You're allowed to be cynical about "Shuttle." A girls-in-peril suspense thriller that takes place mostly on an airport shuttle van? Didn't anybody learn from 2007's dreadful parking-garage chiller "P2"? What's next, a horror film about a demonically possessed baggage carousel? (If anyone actually makes such a movie, I hereby claim copyright. We can call it "Rosemary's Baby-Seat.")
Funny thing is, "Shuttle" turns out to be quite a bit better than its thumbnail description. I'm not saying the movie's art: Writer-director Edward Anderson sticks to the genre basics with a low-budget simplicity that at first looks merely simple-minded. He keeps the performances and dialogue mostly believable, though, which helps put over the far-fetched premise, and even if one character loses several fingers early in the going, Anderson understands that slow dread generally beats fast gore. So when the twists come - which they do - you're hooked.
The plot is pure, nasty urban legend. Two college friends, sensible Melanie (Peyton List) and shallow Jules (Cameron Goodman), return from a Mexican vacation to a deserted 2 a.m. airport; they board a cut-rate shuttle van along with two cute guys they've just met, Seth (James Snyder) and Matt (Dave Power), and a nervous-nellie businessman (Cullen Douglas). The driver (Tony Curran) seems a little odd, especially once he gets off the highway and starts driving through industrial wastelands . . .
To say any more would spoil the movie's scrubbed-down functionality. "Shuttle" was shot in Boston, but other than a glimpse of the Sumner Tunnel, you'd never know it; the cityscapes are as anonymous and deserted as the far side of the moon. Anderson plants plot devices - like Melanie's facility with sign language - but he only detonates some of them, and the movie lurches into violence with unpredictable rhythms. At a certain point you realize it's gripping you more tightly than a lot of films that try harder.
Most interesting is the way "Shuttle" consciously walks the line between treating its central characters as victims and as human beings. List and Goodman are winsome enough to be exploited as dumb bunnies in standard horror-movie fashion, but they're also resourceful and increasingly ticked off. Toward the end, the movie even widens into a creepy warning about the lengths to which some exploitation can go, stopping just short of making a larger sociopolitical statement.
That's probably just as well. "Shuttle" mostly exists, in the words of Alfred Hitchcock, to "put the audience through it," but it leaves you in a very different place than where it started and with remarkable economy of effort. The movie's moral is brutally simple: Life is short, fate is cruel, use a car service.