As his mother lays in a coma, possibly brain dead following a car accident for which he holds his stepfather responsible, Harper drunkenly meets and subsequently hires a shady man to take care of things and avenge his mother. As he questions his decision the film goes into two paths at once, creating a layered story that must be followed until the end to be fully understood.
Writer/director Christopher Smith uses this very well, creating two storylines that evolve at the same time, something in tandem with split screen, sometimes alternatively going back and forth between the two. This is something that could easily have failed or felt like a gimmick but it works here and gives the story and edge over other bad-guy-for-hire revenge films out there. The characters, especially Harper, evolve in this duality adding to their complexity and to how much the viewer must pay attention to not miss a beat or a detail that will help the film make sense later on.
This dual timeline is majorly assisted by editor Kristina Hetherington’s editing which works with the two timeline at once as well as with the back and forth. How she syncs the dual timelines’ scenes and makes them work together when they are sharing the screen is impressive work. Her editing adds a lot to the film’s visual interest along with the cinematography by Christopher Ross. His way of framing and pushing and pulling into scenes is visually appealing and works both with the story and the film’s particular style. Detour’s visual style and the way some of the scenes play at the same time on the screen are a great part of the film’s appeal and work due to talent behind how they are shot, edited, and written.
The film’s look, through cinematography and editing, adds a lot to the story and to how the characters are seen or viewed. These characters are played by Tye Sheridan as lead Harper, Emory Cohen as the hired bad guy Johnny Ray, and Bel Powley as dancer Cherry for the main cast. Tye Sheridan is a bit sheepish at first and eventually gains confidence, something his character needs to go through for the film to work. As Johnny, Emory Cohen oozes a mixture of asshole/creepy/lost boy a la Pleasure Island (Pinocchio). His bully ways seem to have a side of sensitivity for which he makes up by adding a strong, tough persona. His character comes across a bit grating which feels like it’s the right thing to get out of his performance but it also leads to not caring about Johnny and feeling a disconnect from him and his importance in the story. As his girl, Cherry, Bel Powley really catches the attention quickly and keeps it. She has a presence that logically appeals to the other characters considering how it appeals to viewers. Her performance rings true and feels like she really is just a girl doing what she must to survive. Also really worth a mention is Reine Swart as Claire, the waitress the trio comes across on their way to Vegas. Her personality and bubbliness are contagious, making this reviewer which she had more screen time. As for Stephen Moyer who is basically top-billed, he does well as the sketchy stepfather type but gets much less screen time than expected.
Detour is a good thriller with a visually interesting way of pulling the viewer in and keeping their attention. The cast is good with the lovely Bel Powley giving a talented performance and Reine Swart piquing the interest. The film develops in a way that could have gone gimmicky but works here, something in great part due to the editing by Kristina Hetherington and cinematography by Christopher Ross. Their work with Christopher Smith’s writing and directing allow the story to shine and work its way through changes in visual and storytelling style. The ending makes sense even though it feels a bit like an easy way out.