Two friends take a detour through an isolated stretch of Death Valley and their truck breaks down, quickly putting them in a life-and-death struggle for survival. Scenic Route is one of those independent movies constructed to explore the inner emotional workings of its two main characters, rather than flashy plot twists or real action. A bigger production would likely go in a different direction with its harrowing set-up. Scenic Route is a more limited thriller in that sense, preferring to focus on the dynamics between two life-long friends, as they approach middle age and get stuck together in this horrible situation.
Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and Carter (Dan Fogler) have been friends since childhood and embark on a weekend trip to catch up with each other. Carter is straight out of Hollywood casting as an overweight, unemployed writer. Already 30 and living out of his truck, his life has gone in a vastly different direction than Mitchell’s corporate path. Mitchell is a nicely-groomed husband and father, working his way up the corporate ladder in finance. Scenic Route’s entire focus are these two characters, as the first half of the film unfolds much like a stage play through dialogue alone. The third-most important character in the film is the desert itself, ultimately acting as the narrative’s antagonist. Aside from token appearances by other characters, Scenic Route is the story of these two men and their bond.
Once their truck breaks down, raw emotional truths come out about both men. Carter is a failure at writing and currently homeless, while Mitchell admits he isn’t happy in his marriage. Carter believes Mitchell has sold out their once-shared ideals. This back-and-forth dialogue gets tiring over the first two acts. Stuck in a scorching desert with no water or food, the two men quickly start losing it. The two begin to bicker and eventually have an angry confrontation. The signature moment indicating the change is when Carter gives Mitchell a Mohawk haircut. Giving Duhamel some credit, the actor really did shave off his hair for this role.
Scenic Route begins to drag in its second half when one realizes the entire story is simply going to end up being two friends stuck in a desert, struggling to survive against one another. Without spoiling certain developments, the twist near the end is not particularly convincing or shocking. Characterization is far better than most thrillers, but the plot doesn’t lead to anything special. The most compelling reason to watch is for Duhamel’s transformation from corporate drone to crazed man. It’s possibly the best performance of his acting career.
Scenic Route is only Vertical Entertainment’s second release on Blu-ray, the first one being Rushlights (Blu-ray review). While Scenic Route was an independent film made on a shoestring budget, the high-definition 1080P presentation is quite crisp and sharp. Shot using a combination of the Arri Alexa and Red Epic cameras, the picture quality is above acceptable as Carter and Mitchell bake in the scorching desert sun. However, some problems with noise and shadow detail intrude during its darkened night scenes.
This Blu-ray is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the main feature running a touch over 86 minutes. The AVC video encode is given most of the BD-25’s capacity. Running at strong bitrates well over 30 Mbps in select scenes, the only real problems with it are some horrific instances of digital camera noise for one extended scene, as Mitchell and Baker have a quiet conversation inside their truck. The scene was filmed at night and the encoding struggles to reproduce digital noise inherent in the source, due to poor lighting at the time of filming. It is the only blight on what is generally a strong-looking movie.
Mild aliasing and minor ringing crop up in the video due to very subtle usage of digital composites, mostly in “fixing” the desert for the filmmakers’ intended setting. Scenic Route lacks the superior depth and pop of more expensive, digitally-shot fare. White levels are slightly blown-out in the bright exterior shots, though black levels for the most part are not affected.
Scenic Route is not demo material but presented on Blu-ray in a clean, satisfactory manner. The digital filming is a little uneven across a variety of different settings to warrant a top score.
The provided soundtrack for Scenic Route is a fairly anemic 5.1 DTS-MA mix. Dialogue is effortlessly reproduced, mostly through the center channel. Its weakness lies in the unambitious sound design and a lack of surround activity. There is hardly anything of real consequence coming from the surround channels. The film’s low-budget origins are most apparent on the soundtrack. For a film aspiring to be an intense thriller, the lack of a polished sound mix does hurt the overall experience.
English SDH has been provided as a subtitle option. The subtitles display in a white font.
Trailers and an audio commentary round out the special features. Copies found at Walmart should include a bonus digital code, good for a VUDU copy of the movie.
Audio Commentary With the Goetz Brothers and Josh Duhamel – This feature-length commentary by the film’s co-directors and its main star is patchy and ragged. The brothers mostly recall details about shooting specific scenes and share their effusive praise for every person associated with the movie. Duhamel is a little more frisky in his comments, though he mostly seems to be having a good time talking about his character and the movie. It is apparent the participants are a little inexperienced in recording a commentary.
Trailer (02:19 in HD)
Rushlights trailer (02:05 in HD) – This trailer plays before the main menu loads up.
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