Review: “Detour”

Posted by Michael Parsons on January 28, 2017 in / No Comments


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 detour_ver2mood, 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.

Available on VOD

—M. Parsons 2017

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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