I’m a sucker for single-setting thrillers in which folks have to figure out what got them there and how to get out. Typically everyone becomes paranoid and turns on each other. One guy usually dies. An unlikely hero figures how to get out. Y’know the drill. There are some really good ones out there (Cube, Unknown, Exam) but it’s a tough type of film to pull off well. Chariot, directed by Brad Osborne, is a low-budget, high-concept addition to the trapped-in-a-room subgenre that sees its cast stuck on an airplane headed for who knows where. The setting makes it interesting and there are some strong moments of suspense, but overall it’s a predictable film that fails to make an emotional punch.
A group of strangers wake up on a plane disorientated and confused about how they the hell they wound up at 10,000 feet. It’s crazy how Jigsaw could abduct people and lock them up, but try sneaking them on a plane, hot shot. They soon figure out one thing they have in common: they were all in Houston before waking on the plane. Every attempt to communicate with the pilot fails and they cockpit door won’t budge. Thanks to a conveniently placed cellphone, they find out that America is under attack, Houston is toast, and they’re basically fucked.
The characters are a rag-tag group from the dugout of hackneyed ideas: the strong female government contractor, the smart-mouthed hacker, the skittish politician, the wolf in housewife clothing. There is one compelling character: a Texan truck driver named Cole, played by Anthony Montgomery from Leprechaun in the Hood. He’s the lynchpin of the group and also its black sheep. What’s a truck driver doing stuffed on a plane with a buncha suits? Cole does his best to keep everyone level-headed while they fly to their doom.
As the conspiracy unravels, so does the tightness of the plot. It’s fairly obvious off the bat what’s really going on, so every “twist” falls flat and every “turn” fails to shock. At least the cast makes up for any shortcomings in the story department. Montgomery does a fantastic job as Cole, a tired hardass bubbling with quiet masculinity. The confined space is used really well too. The filmmakers got the most out of their airplane set, for sure. Towards the end there’s some great suspense, culminating in an inevitably ambiguous ending. Osborne backs the entire film into a corner and the only plausible way to end it was to leave it up for interpretation.
There are a few intimate moments in the film where passengers quietly reveal themselves. Cole in particular digs up a real heavy ghost from his past. I found these to be the most effective segments of Chariot – the ones separated from the conspiratorial plot and all the constant bitching. The emotion of these scenes fails to permeate the rest of the film, however, and in the end the film leaves a startlingly tedious chemtrail in its wake.
Chariot is now on home video if you want to take the ride yourself.
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