Claustrophobia at its finest.
One of my biggest fears in life is being buried alive. I wouldn't consider myself a claustrophobic, but the thought of being confined to an uncomfortably small space gives me anxiety. Following in the line of other confined locations or dramatically "trapped" films (127 Hours and Buried immediately come to mind), Detour focuses on a character's struggle to escape from his unfortunate circumstances.
But is that enough to separate itself from its peers?
The film opens with Jackson (Neil Hopkins) waking up following what looks like a car accident. However, as his senses and surroundings return to him and become more clear, he realizes that he was swept away in a Californian mudslide. Armed with an iPhone and a scattered supply of items in his SUV, Jackson must do what he can to escape his mud tomb.
Exposition and backstory is told through both a mix of flashbacks and hallucinatory episodes, while the main narrative closely sticks to the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief. The perspective shifts from a traditional camera to an iPhone camera during monologue scenes, accentuating the feelings of claustrophobia.
What Detour does differently than 127 Hours (and possibly Buried, although I haven't seen that film) is the main arc solely takes place in Jackson's trapped SUV. While there are other characters/actors in the aforementioned flashbacks and hallucinations, primarily featuring Jackson's girlfriend, Laurie (Brea Grant), the film is carried on Hopkins' performance. Because of this, the brunt of the film is encapsulated from Jackson's waking moments following the accident to his final moments attempting escape.
Jackson isn't some specially-trained/skilled hiker or whatever; he's a salesman. As such, he's an everyman, and Dickerson wrote him as such. He shambles through his SUV to find use in random objects, he drinks all of his water rather than rationing it out properly, he punches at the SUV's windows desperately; basically, he acts like any of us would do. It's this singular focus on Jackson and our ability to relate to him that helps separate Detour from other similar films.
However, as a whole, Detour felt like it was missing something special, despite the film keeping me captivated throughout its runtime. This could be due in part to the limitations of the plot and the entire film falling solely on Hopkins' shoulders. It's not as if he got buried by the pressure (hurr hurr), but he (or Jackson, characteristically) isn't quite as multi-dimensional as you'd like in a film like this. Where's his spiritual journey? Where's the big epiphany or enlightenment that gives him the strength to escape?
Perhaps it got lost in the mudslide.