Producers: Simona Ferri, Roberto Cipullo, Gabria Cipullo, Simon Pilarsky and Konstantin Korenchuk   Director: Alessio Liguori   Screenplay:  Daniele Cosci   Cast: Jack Kane, Zanda Emlano, Zak Sutcliffe, Sophie Jane Oliver, Molly Dew, Terence Anderson, David Keyes, Mino Caprio, Teo Achille Csprio, Emma Giua, Matteo de Gregori and Andrei Claude   Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Grade: C-

Originality is not the strong suit of this cheesy horror movie, an Italian production (shot in the Lazio region around Rome) but with a largely British cast.  The incongruity is explained offhandedly by a throwaway indication that the five teens who are the prospective victims are students at some sort of international school, though they seem a pretty motley lot for such a place.  It’s even more peculiar that their bus driver is a Brit too; and that an escaped convict they encounter, though he has a very Italian name, also speaks with a pronounced English accent.

In any event, the obviously low-budget affair begins with those five students—handsome but quiet Nolan (Jack Kane), rebel-without-a-cause Reggie (Zak Sutcliffe), chubby motormouth Karl (Zanda Emlano), pretty Bess (Sophie Jane Oliver) and brainy Queenie (Molly Dew)–being driven through a forest on a rickety old bus by avuncular Joseph (Terence Anderson).  They halt when they come upon a construction project that cuts off the otherwise empty road, so Joseph backs up and takes a side route deeper into the forest.

They don’t notice that the arm of a dead person is protruding from a pile of dirt beside the abandoned bulldozer.

As they continue along their way, they encounter another obstacle—a dead animal in the middle of the road as it passes through a long tunnel.  When Joseph goes out to move it, he’s accosted by that escaped convict, a fellow named Pedro Minghella, whom the terrified Karl, abandoning his glibly carefree attitude, informs his classmates is a guy known as The Tongue Eater.  (We’ve seen his photo in a newspaper headline glimpsed on a tablet owned by the boy’s friend Chris, played by Andrei Claude).  Minghella wants a ride, and warns the passengers to give him no trouble—or else.

Unfortunately, the bus elects to break down at that moment, and a creature referred to as the Nocturne Wanderer shows up to menace them all.  To make a long story short, it does away with Joseph and Pedro, leaving the kids on their own.  They find their way into some labyrinthine subterranean passages attached to the tunnel and—of course—split up to reconnoiter.  Never a good idea, perhaps, but one that’s integral to this sort of story.

Eventually Nate and Bess find a strange room cluttered with notebooks and clippings on its stone walls.  They tell the story of Giulio Sarpi, who as a boy (Teo Achille Caprio) ventured into the woods with his beloved sister Isabelle (Emma Giua), only to see her abducted by the creature.  Years later in middle age, Sarpi (Mino Caprio) returned to the site, determined to track the beast down. 

What happened to Sarpi remains unclear, but our heroes are determined to escape the place, confronting the ravenous beast with torches and other weapons to do so.  In the process, needless to say, they exhibit their fears, but also their courage. 

As scripted by Daniele Cosci, the beats of “Shortcut” are quite predictable (and some of the dialogue stilted, despite the presence of a translator in the credits), and as a whole the movie generates little tension, largely because Alessio Liguori’s direction is pedestrian and Jacopo Reale’s editing often goes slack.  All the actors are decent but unexceptional, and both Miriam Judith Reichel’s production design and Luca Santagostino’s cinematography are undistinguished.  The same can be said of Benjamin Kwasi Burell’s score..     

It might be noted that in the closing credits the so-called Nocturne (presumably for Nocturnal) Wanderer (played by Matteo de Gregori in a chintzy rubber suit) is called the Nocturne Wonderer.  It makes one wonder what the Wonderer is wondering about.

Maybe about what he’s doing in such a mediocre horror movie.  Or why we’re watching it.