A thriller of real distinction set in America but made by a British writer/director.


Tye Sheridan, Emory Cohen and Bel Powley 


How enjoyable it is just to sit back and enjoy this movie. Not being a fan of horror films, I have not previously seen the work of Christopher Smith who brings to this thriller a self-evident love of cinema together with the ability to write his own very adroit script. Here he is concocting for his pleasure - and for ours - a film that contains echoes of Hitchcock and Clouzot while also referencing other films of the past (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is mentioned in the dialogue, a swimming pool image brings to mind Sunset Boulevard, a poster on a wall confirms that it is not by chance that a key character here is called Harper and the very title, Detour, is an act of homage to Edgar G. Ulmer's cult movie of 1946 from which a clip is seen). The films evoked are all old, but this smart movie suggests the work of a young filmmaker newly excited by what cinema can do (a couple of effects may be questionable, but stylisation such as the use of split screen images is handled with relish). Indeed, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that Smith was born as long ago as 1970.


This American tale has at its centre a law student, the said Harper (Tye Sheridan from Mud) who, when in a bar encounters a dangerous stranger. This man, Johnny Ray (Emory Cohen from Brooklyn), is probably a psychopath and, on learning from Harper that he hates his step-father whom he blames for the fate of his dying mother, he promptly suggests a deal for cash in return for which he will kill this man. The next day Johnny Ray turns up in company with his girlfriend, Cherry (Bel Powley from The Diary of a Teenage Girl), ready to drive off with Harper in order to put his proposal into practice. Harper had been drunk the night before and now asks Johnny Ray to go away. But then he changes his mind. Once on the road they encounter a cop (Gbenza Akinnagbe) who is suspicious and rash enough to intervene. All of these players are excellent (as is John Lynch cast against type) and, if Cohen is the most memorable, that is probably because his role here is in such contrast to the one he played equally well in Brooklyn.


The work of Jean-Luc Godard is a long way from the classics more directly invoked by Detour, but one of his most famous sayings proves to be highly relevant: "A film should have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order". As the story develops and we piece together what is going on, we realise through flashbacks that we have, in effect, started not at the beginning but in the middle. There is also some time jumping towards the end and, in addition, a further surprise is offered when we discover that within this thriller love stories are to be found. There is nothing here so exceptional and memorable that one could describe Detour as a masterpiece, but on its own terms this is first-rate entertainment for which Smith and his cast share the credit. her.




Cast: Tye Sheridan, Emory Cohen, Bel Powley, Gbenza Akinnagbe, John Lynch, Stephen Moyer, Jared Abrahamson.


Dir Christopher Smith, Pro Julie Baines, Phil Hunt, Stephen Kelliher, Jason Newmark and Compton Ross, Screenplay Christopher Smith, Ph Christopher Ross, Pro Des Sharon Lomofsky, Ed Kristina Hetherington, Music Pablo Clements and James Griffith Toydrum, Costumes Tracey Berg and Ros Berkeley-Hill.


Head Gear Films/Bankside Films/Kreo Films FZ-Bulldog Film Distribution.
95 mins. UK/South Africa. 2016. Rel: 26 May 2017. Cert. 15.