I was not a fan of Emory Cohen when I first saw him in “The Place Beyond the Pines”, but he won me over between the under-appreciated “Beneath the Harvest Sky” and what most would consider to be his breakthrough role as the love interest in “Brooklyn”. But it’s in the road thriller “Detour” that the young actor has really hit his stride. A noir nail-biter that presents itself like “Sliding Doors” as envisioned by Hitchcock, the film is even more clever than its premise of duality initially leads on.
What its most distinguishing element hinges upon I can’t divulge, but between Cohen, Bel Powley, and Tye Sheridan, who announced himself as a rising star in “Mud” and “Joe”, I can say that it’s got quite the ensemble of burgeoning talent. Writer director Christopher Smith diverges from his horror roots (“Creep”, “Severance”), but does not entirely abandon the creepy mood, and even finds a place to shoehorn in some blood and guts. Smith has teed himself up for something awesome, though slices slightly into the rough in the third act, where it could have gone so many ways (better or worse) but seems to choose the easy route.
Sheridan plays a teenager named Harper, who gets lit at the local watering hole despite looking fourteen. There, he runs into trouble incarnate Johnny Ray (Cohen) and stripper Cherry (Powley), who may or may not be Johnny’s girl but either way clearly doesn’t want to be along for the ride.
In a stupor, Harper lets it slip that his mother is in a coma and his bastard of a stepfather Vincent (Stephen Moyer) is responsible for the car accident that put her there. It is here that Harper’s choice splits into alternate realities, or so it would appear: in one, he stays home and lets his stepfather head to Vegas where Harper suspects he’s been cheating on his mom; in the other, he heads to Vegas with imposing Johnny Ray who’ll bury Vincent somewhere in the desert for $20k.
Kind of a novel idea for a thriller, as it follows these two paths, and its surprising which scenario goes sour first. Now, it doesn’t all make sense, and a run-in with a suspicious State Trooper (Gbenga Akinnagbe) feels incongruous and overplayed, but Smith’s movie works, held together mostly by Cohen’s arresting performance as the unstable antagonist. He’s foul and abusive, but more damaged than outright evil, as exemplified in a scene with desert overlord Frank (John Lynch), who turns Johnny Ray from an alpha into a cowering puppy.
“Detour” might be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s more than serviceable as a guess-a-minute thriller.
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—M. Parsons 2017