Studio: Blumhouse Tilt
Director: Iain Softley
Writer: Kimberly Lofstrom Johnson, Lee Patterson
Producer: Jason Blum, Julie Yorn, Jaume Collet-Serra
Stars: Julianne Hough, Teddy Sears, Penelope Mitchell, Madalyn Horcher, Drew Rausch, Kurt Bryant
Trapped in an overturned truck beneath a deserted road, a young woman fights for survival against a dangerous hitchhiker.
Think of directors with prolific bodies of work or who release movies regularly, e.g. Hitchcock, Carpenter, Spielberg, and try naming movies they made that already existed. Sure, someone such as Tarantino makes movies in classic styles or with intentionally familiar elements, but how many of his projects are genuinely redundant? And sure, Scorsese has made multiple gangster films, but has he ever truly repeated himself?
The point being pondered is that with “Curve” being only the third feature in ten years from director Iain Softley, and the only credit for co-scripters Kimberly Lofstrom Johnson and Lee Patterson, perhaps infrequent output is responsible for convincing them to create something so ordinary without even realizing it. Because if unfamiliarity with what has already been done to death in suspense cinema isn’t to blame for the blandness, then “Curve” thinks its audience incapable of recognizing routine.
Mallory can’t get her upcoming marriage out of her mind. We know this because of copious close-ups like nervous twirling of the ring on her finger and the sheet labeled “Wedding Vows” staring conspicuously from her passenger seat. Mallory’s worries aren’t eased by Ella’s disapproval of fiancé Brad, either. Who’s Ella? Don’t worry. “Curve” spoon-feeds all the exposition one can swallow using dialogue such as, “hi sister!” to explicitly tell us who is who.
Traveling solo in a dusty old truck, Mallory stops at a fork in the road with a sign pointing to a paved highway on the right for “Denver” and to a deserted road on the left for “Guaranteed Death Trap with Sketchy Cellphone Service.” Guess which route she chooses? Let’s just hope her car doesn’t suddenly break down out here in the middle of---
What do you know, her car breaks down. From empty air comes Christian, a chiseled drifter/catalog model who helps Mallory put her car back on the road and is rewarded with a lift to the nearby motel for his good deed. Maybe Christian will buck against archetype and turn out to be a decent fellow enjoying pleasant company with---
Nope. Christian is a killer. Hoping to violently eject Christian from her life as well as through the windshield once his murderous intent is made clear, Mallory leadfoots the gas pedal and tumbles her truck into a ravine. Unfortunately, Mallory’s newly crushed leg pins her upside-down and immobile while Christian escapes unscathed.
In between bouts of tormenting an unseen family in a cabin down the road, Christian occasionally comes back to the crash site to spit more verbal abuse at trapped rat Mallory. Meanwhile, days continue passing with Mallory growing hungry, hopeless, and more desperate to see herself saved and Christian savaged.
“Curve” is a thin thriller either intended for or created by people who have never seen such movies before. When not reliant on preposterous coincidences (the premise might be more believable if the hitchhiker found Mallory after her car overturned), the script overdoses on predictable plot beats pilfered from too many movies to count.
When Mallory’s thirst grows to its breaking point, she is driven to drink her own urine. That might be vile if James Caan hadn’t already encountered the same circumstance in “Misery.” One way Christian taunts Mallory is to toss her a hacksaw with which she can cut off her leg to escape. That might be a nailbiter if Cary Elwes hadn’t already done this in “Saw.”
Mallory’s situation echoes Ryan Reynolds’ in “Buried.” The difference is that Reynolds’ ordeal unfolded as a mystery with captivating drama in phone conversations he had while trapped. “Curve” is mostly Mallory hanging while flipped over, wondering what her next move is. It’s not a story, it’s a setup, and an uneventful one at that. There’s no urgency in any threat since they always arrive too early to put Mallory in life-threatening danger and her options for escape are too limited to be inventive.
Julianne Hough plays damsel in distress very well. Her tears are convincing, as is her terror, and her fit dancer physique gives her credible resilience. But the characterization on the page isn’t up to her capabilities as an actress. “Curve” treats Mallory like any interchangeably average Final Girl, right down to a senseless spill of Diet Pepsi on her shirt so there can be an obligatory angle of Hough in a bra. A bra that disappears and reappears repeatedly underneath her tank top in subsequent shots, by the way.
Mallory’s initial introduction consists of power ballad car karaoke and a “poor me” backstory involving a honeymoon cancelled by her questionable choice in husbands. Neither contrivance is endearing enough to win invested audience interest as fast as the film needs it before Christian comes into the picture. “Curve” continues downplaying Mallory by making her talk to herself with lines like, “where is my phone?” in case the audience is too dense to follow along visually, and the clichéd, “why are you like this?” in case Christian feels like doling out a sensible rationalization for murderous behavior.
Teddy Sears, a lock for Bill Oberst Jr.’s handsome son should such an occasion arise, is fine as a disarming good guy playing predictably towards a switch to psychotic. He never has a chance to make the cardboard character unique when the movie regards Christian as a villain equally unremarkable to Mallory’s heroine. Disappearing for large swaths of time to leave Mallory against the elements, he isn’t around long enough to develop a personality even close to intriguing, much less as menacing as Annie Wilkes or John Ryder.
Like Hough and Sears, director Iain Softley and the two writers are fulfilling job descriptions to the letter. The script is styled in a manner to make Syd Field smile. Direction and editing are structured with equal competence. There just isn’t anything exciting about the generic material or play-it-safe presentation to justify why anyone should be interested in the movie. By-the-book, by-the-numbers, run-of-the-mill, or however else it can be hyphenated, “Curve” is as conventional as thrillers get.
Review Score: 45