What if you could split yourself and exist in two parallel universes, never knowing about the existence of the ‘other you’, where you could remain safe while the ‘other you’ committed whatever crime you wanted?
Barely ten minutes into the runtime of Detour a pimp (Emory Cohen) asks this question to a wide-eyed law student (Tye Sheriden), whose deteriorating relationship with his tyrannical stepfather has reached a point where he is seriously thinking about paying someone to murder him. This thought experiment becomes the backbone of the film when the pimp and his girlfriend (Bel Powley) turn up on Sheriden’s doorstep, demanding he cough up 20 grand as payment for the impending murder. The film splits in two, following one version of Sheriden who swallows his doubt and joins the abusive pair on a roadtrip that quickly spirals out of control, while a parallel version remains home, descending into a rabbit hole equalling overwhelming.
This film sets itself a high bar, trying to incorporate quantum theory into parallel crime-tales, all the while indulging in the surreal taste of LSD; oversaturating colours, bending the characters in queasy close-ups and warping them with fish-eye lenses. In many ways, however, it falls short; the core premise is basic and derivative and the campy performances of the actors, pigeonholed into clichéd roles, is a near-constant reminder of its shortcomings.
However, Detour is not a character study; this is a stylistic neo-noir with a director that clearly enjoys playing with the film’s structure more than he does the characters. What it may lack in distinct and compelling characters it makes up for with a confident visual style, having less in common with all those verbose Pulp Fiction clones and more in the frantic, sunburnt thrillers that appear from time to time in Australian cinema.
Perhaps Detour’s greatest strength is its limitless capacity to surprise. What seems at first to be a disappointing choice to abandon the film’s premise is quickly utilised as a plot twist, though while it does transform the movie into a more streamlined chase, it denies itself the chance to become a modern classic. Memento comes to mind as the sort of movie Detour almost was.
At the end of the day, Detour is a victim of its own desire to conform to genre expectations. It will probably be forgotten in the vast array of movies coming out this year, which is a shame because in the moments this film shines, it’s fantastic.