Five Years Later, Audiences Still Discovering Scenic Route
By GREG BEAUBIEN July 24, 2018
AMID THE CRASHING DELUGE of new movies, TV shows, music, plays and books that threatens to drown us, consumers of American culture can be forgiven for sometimes seeking higher ground. But in our retreat we might miss things we would have loved—especially independent works not hyped to heaven through massive marketing campaigns. In a multimedia era when it’s never been easier for artists to create and distribute their own work, the problem is overabundance that breeds obscurity, all but negating our newfound ability to bypass traditional gatekeepers. As a result, worthy, even exceptional, work can take years to find an audience.
With this modern conundrum in mind, Moresby Press likes to occasionally spotlight books and films five or even ten years after they’re first released. A movie that we recently discovered—and which will mark its five-year anniversary in August—is Scenic Route, a low-budget but ingenious 2013 indie flick directed by the brothers Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz.
The film’s setup is simple but powerful: Two guys in their early thirties are on a road trip through the Nevada desert, traveling on a desolate, seldom-used road, when their old pickup truck breaks down. They have no food or water, just a few pieces of candy and some ice in a plastic cup. Stuck in that wasteland, the two lifelong friends—portrayed in brilliant performances by Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler—face a test of survival that begins with the two pals attacking each other for the divergent life choices they each have made.
Duhamel plays Mitchell, an erstwhile musician who gave up his dream of rock stardom to earn a fat salary in the financial sector instead. As we learn through screenwriter Kyle Killen’s well written dialogue, after the love of Mitchell’s life broke up with him, he married another woman on the rebound and has been living a dull suburban life as a husband and father. His wife convinced him to get rid of his guitars. Carter, meanwhile, is an unemployed, unpublished writer who lives in his car but refuses to forego his dream of being a published novelist.
Stranded in Death Valley, their frustration mounts. Carter harangues Mitchell for betraying his principles; in turn, Mitchell angrily tells Carter that his “writing sucks,” and that he’s the last person from whom Mitchell would ever accept a “life intervention.” Harsh words turn to physical fighting, and soon the pair is bloodied and half-dead by the roadside, as burning sun falls to ice-cold night and back again. The unlucky travelers are so thirsty that they start drinking the truck’s windshield-washer fluid. Even worse for Mitchell, he has a broken foot and is hobbling around on crutches, for a reason that is never explained.
Killen wrote Scenic Route very much like a play. In fact, some scenes were rehearsed onstage before being filmed. The stationary truck may well have been a stage prop, and the dramaturgy that unfolds evokes hints of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The movie, which works toward a surprise conclusion, ends up being unexpectedly gripping and profound, raising questions about the nature of friendship, youthful dreams, adult compromises, and mankind’s place in the world.
In an unfortunate era of Hollywood franchise factories and comic book superheroes, when genuine drama has been supplanted by empty spectacle, Scenic Route remains a welcome reminder of the grown-up gravitas independent cinema can still give us. Five years on, let’s help this original film continue to build the audience it deserves. Seek it out.