Shortcut is a nifty little surprise. Think of The Breakfast Club reimagined as a creature feature and you start to get the idea. Five disparate kids are heading home on a school bus. Nolan (Jack Kane), is the good looking, athletic type. He's got a crush on shy Bess (Sophie Jane Oliver). Reggie (Zak Sutcliffe) is a punk-ish rebel, Queenie (Molly Dew) a “brain,” and Karl (Zander Emlano) an incessant jokester. The earliest scenes let us get to know them and observe their personalities for a bit. Clearly, they run in different circles and have little in common other than the bus.

Then the horror kicks in. When their road home is blocked, the driver takes another route to get around. Without divulging too much, that route is blocked too, leaving our young passengers trapped with some sort of hideous creature lurking outside. If you think this is going to be the sort of movie where a monster picks people off one by one, think again. The kids recognize the need to work together in order to survive. They're either all living or all dying.

Shortcut doesn't exactly break any new ground in the storytelling department. The characters wind up in an unlikely location once they decide to get off the bus and seek shelter. Of course, something is there that gives them a tactical advantage. Also thrown in is a mini-subplot about a man's past attempt to defeat the monster. It's on the underdeveloped side, feeling thrown in to allow the kids to have a couple all-too-convenient tools at their disposal.

What makes Shortcut work, to a large degree, is the cast. These young actors, some of whom are making their acting debuts, have tons of personality. Director Alessio Liguori clearly went to great lengths to find teenagers who exude natural charisma. Watching them interact with one another is a consistent pleasure because the performers feel so authentic together. The standouts are Emlano, who earns repeated laughs as the class clown, and Dew, who captures the insecurity of the hyper-intelligent Queenie. Whenever one of her peers derogatorily calls her “I.Q.” you can see her squirm.

The decision to use practical effects is another plus. We mostly get quick glimpses of the creature. Nevertheless, it succeeds because we can tell it's occupying the same space as the humans. CGI monsters are rarely as effective because we know the performers are acting against nothing. The Shortcut FX team has designed a cool-looking monster that feels like a genuine threat to the kids. We've had so many movie monsters that look alike; coming up with one that's all-new is a challenge. The one here isn't completely original, although it's certainly creepy, especially in the mouth area. In other words, it does the trick.

Briskly paced at just eighty minutes (including credits) Shortcut is undeniably slight, but it still offers some laughs, a few decent chills, and a very appealing cast of young actors. I enjoyed it as a low-key horror flick.

out of four

Shortcut is unrated, but contains creature violence and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.