Shot in Italy, with an English cast, there’s a crisp, almost fairytale levity to Alessio Liguori’s horror adventure that sits oddly but not unworkably with its gorier elements. It’s not quite clear exactly where it is set: perhaps actually in Italy, as the group of five youngsters being escorted on a red vintage bus are from an international school. Bantering with their driver, the party are jumped by a gun-toting convict when they stop to clear a dead deer off the road. But when the bus halts in a tunnel, with a shrouded shape huddled in front of them on the tarmac, they realise there’s worse out there.
Liguori and writer Daniele Cosci don’t do much more than establish the character types of this Breakfast Club of teenagers: normals Nolan and Bess, swotty Queenie, joker Karl and bad boy Reggie. Not getting bogged down in interpersonal relationships means giving freer rein to the basic claustrophobia of their predicament, as their vehicle is menaced by a bulbous-headed beastie that looks a bit like William Blake’s Ghost of a Flea on crack. But Shortcut is not really tense: there’s a presiding zaniness that is almost cartoonish, with Zander Emlano’s Karl – whose lazy charm makes him the standout performer – especially game for screaming straight to camera. It’s one “yikes” away from being Scooby-Doo.
Despite a rush of backstory when the gang hunker down in an abandoned fort and discover a cache of newspaper cuttings, the storytelling is a bit too scant and the runaround with the monster a bit too silly. But, delicately shooting all three environments – woods, bus and underground tunnels – with skin-prickling intensity, Shortcut retains a fresh edge. There is still the question of who the film is for: the close encounters with the pucker-mouthed parasite are too intense for kids. Maybe precocious tweens, or adults who are still afraid of the dark.
• Shortcut is released on 29 March on digital platforms.