Entombed by a nightmarish quality, Scenic Route finds two old friends stranded in Death Valley after their vehicle succumbs to the surroundings (and a misguided ploy by one of the duo). The strengths of this thriller, which embraces both psychological and more straightforward approaches to the genre, comes from many facets. Be it the potent performances from Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, strong writing or a well realized vision of the setting and situation, Scenic Route offers no clear answers but what it does better than most is provide multiple possible outcomes that are equally compelling across the board. Even what I suppose could be considered the less probable conclusions still explore themes even more complex that those of the “reasonable” variety.
Scenic Route is penned by scribe Kyle Killen, who gave us the prematurely cancelled television series Awake and the hugely underrated The Beaver with Mel Gibson in 2011. Though wildly different films, this effort caries a very similar feel – an off kilter, dreamlike vibe that services the ending to great effect. He is certainly no stranger to twisting narratives, a strength when coupled with his poignant, natural script culminates in a film that is both close to home and as far from day to day reality as one could fathom.
Some of the chief themes explored include those to do with the expectations and reality of the “American dream,” how people change over time but also how at others they are unable, or unwilling to. Killen delves into the jealous underpinnings of a lost friendship and also how people react either to things actually going well in your life or failing to live up to what we dreamed as kids. Fogler’s Carter poignantly states that if everyone followed the path of what we drew in elementary school as our ideal future we would live in a world full of pro athletes and astronauts and that we need someone to clean the toilets. It’s a rather harsh reality but so is the life or death situation these two face.
Unravelling as a two man show, Scenic Route certainly asks a lot of its leads and in the cases of both Duhamel and Fogler they deliver. Known mostly for playing the slovenly best friend or goofy sidekick to a more straight laced lead, Fogler owns his character who while still a screw-up (at least in the eyes of most) and a bit of a man child, is played completely straight. He is as well developed as Duhamel’s corporate “stooge,” an individual not nearly as unhappy as he expresses. They share highs and lows and banter and fight with an honesty missing from most dramas. Some of what these characters have to say may hit closer to home than you would like to hear. Perhaps most importantly, despite not always being on the best of terms, these are not bad people and we certainly root for them to make it out ok.
Where Scenic Route stumbles from time to time is in the execution of the scuffles and arguments between these two friends as the situation escalates. Their eventual reconciliations certainly ring true given the stage that has been set but the rather volcanic nature of these feuds can be a tad over the top. You might ask, who am I to say how I would react if I was dealt the same hand, but given the other interactions, they ring especially false. Additionally, their missed opportunities for rescue are handled in a rather derivative manner and serve to be more infuriating in how they unravel, more than a soul crushing defeat – just another bump on the road to death. It’s unfortunate given how well everything else works.
This brings us to the ending. Always being a positively thinking person, I have a fairly clear comprehension of my version of Scenic Route but more so than usual I actually found it to be more interesting and complex than the flip side. This again stems from ideas surrounding being able to except good things in your life and not always questioning the little things, or that if something exceptional befalls you it must come with a catch. Whatever way someone ultimately views Scenic Route it’s difficult to imagine them not leaving with at least something to mull over.
Those who require a clear cut wrap-up will find Scenic Route maddening, but those who like their brain to keep firing after the end credits will find what this film has to offer quite compelling. How you view the conclusion will rely entirely on your outlook on life. Optimists, pessimists and everyone in between will have their own view on what transpired and because of it change how they perceive the preceding acts. Different symbolism and foreshadowing will make itself seen depending on what side you land upon and I’m sure repeat viewings will uncover even more subversive dynamics and themes.
Scenic Route is an unsettling and wonderfully obtuse picture that will provide a different experience for every viewer.