It’s a familiar scene: the open road, a sport utility vehicle full of oversexed twenty-somethings, and a catalyst for disaster (in this case, two blown rear tires). Except this time, in a crazy twist, the buffed and polished co-eds aren’t being stalked by a pack of backwoods mutants (Wrong Turn) or a twisted family of redneck cannibals (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) or a flesh-eating, ax-wielding monster (Jeepers Creepers). No, instead they find a service station staffed by Abercrombie & Fitch models who give them all the free booze they can stomach and a place to stay for the night.
So much sun-kissed skin and hospitality! I know. I was terrified, too.
In fact, for the first 30 minutes of screen time there is very little horror to be detected. The only clues that I hadn’t completely misunderstood the synopsis were:
- The opening credits, where news clips tell us that a fire at an orphanage left no survivors (?),
- The cookie cutter road horror premise, and
- The gorgeous, yet bad actors, which is usually a red flag that they will be ripped limb from limb.
Sure enough, a new day dawns and the only unattached guy in the group is promptly decapitated. Two of the couples are bound in their motel rooms, and the remaining couple is locked in and made to watch the televised BTK demise of their friends at the hands of “the helpers”.
Somehow, though, the scenario doesn’t particularly inspire dread. And I think I know why.
Beauty isn’t scary.
That is not to say that villains can’t be hot. Max Thieriot in House at the End of the Street, Erika Christensen in Swimfan, Shaun Evans in Dread and even Antony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs (if normal looking middle-aged dudes are your thing) are a testament to the attractiveness that sometimes accompanies antisocial behavior. However, each of these characters comes with malintent percolating just beneath the surface. In the case of Hannibal Lecter in particular, the scariest thing about him is that we kind of like him even though we know something’s not quite right upstairs. I struggle to think of an effective horror villain who embodies the brand of clean, all-American, form-over-function, denim advertisement attractiveness that The Helpers is peddling.
The ragtag service station guys and gals are too pretty to be scary, and it’s hard to believe that anything is going on beneath the surface, upstairs or anywhere else. And, with seven of the road trippers and five helpers, there are entirely too many characters without enough development for us to give a crap about anyone. So, someone might as well be electrocuted in the bathtub or torn in half by trucks.
We eventually learn the helpers’ motive and that the whole sordid affair was a plot a long time in the making. We also learn that it could have been avoided if the road trippers hadn’t asked for help, which is laughable in its irony.
Maybe if we had asked the helpers for assistance, they would’ve put us out of our misery 40 minutes ago.