Dir: Mark Heller 2007 USA . 95 mins.
A likable cast and the exotic backdrop of Morocco provides first-time feature director Mark Heller with the tools to make a tense thriller about Western tourists in danger but he fails to build much-needed suspense. While pretty to watch, The Passage never scares enough to bring audiences to the edge of their seats.

The one sequence that shows Heller as a filmmaker with potential occurs late in the movie. Trapped in a hillside tunnel, one of the film's male heroes faces total darkness. The flash of his camera allows him the chance to escape and the rhythm of alternating blackness and bursts of light ups the tension. Unfortunately, the scene serves to expose the lack of thrills in the rest of the movie.

An American traveler (Stephen Dorff) and his British buddy (Neil Jackson) travel to Morocco for an extended holiday. Near the end of their visit, a pretty Moroccan woman (Israeli actress Sarai Givaty) befriends the men, but there is something sinister behind her warm actions.

Horror fans looking for gore will leave The Passage disappointed. While its tourists-in-danger story has gore potential, Heller has taken a creative step away from popular horror movies like Hostel and Turistas by making The Passage splatter-free. The problem is that Heller offers nothing scary in exchange. Without jolts of fright, gory or otherwise, the film will struggle to hold an audience's attention.

Production designer Marla Altschuler makes beautiful use of the film's Arab landscapes, whether city alleyways or hillside homes. Composer Timothy Williams accents the exotic images with sinister music.

Heller, who has acting experience in addition to directing stage plays in the U.S. and England, shows a good grasp of technical skills, but brings little of his own stamp to Jackson's script. Editor Jonathan Del Gatto also shares blame the film's lack of a suspenseful build up.

American actor Stephen Dorff is likable as an innocent caught up in a plot beyond his understanding. Neil Jackson serves The Passage better as an actor, providing some welcome humour as a man more interested in pretty women than in Moroccan culture. Sarai Givaty, the most pivotal character in the movie, is convincing when flirty and sweet at the beginning, but when the story shifts and she needs to be sinister, she is less believable.

In the U.S., despite the presence of Stephen Dorff in the lead, The Passage looks to be a likely straight-to-DVD release.

Production companies
Silverwood Films (US)

International Sales
Endeavor Independent (US)
(310) 246-3126

Executive Producers
Doug Dey

Lynette Howell
Jeremy Kipp Walker

Neil Jackson

Jim Denault

Jonathan Del Gatto

Production Design
Marla Altschuler

Timothy Williams

Main Cast
Stephen Dorff
Neil Jackson
Sarai Givaty
Khalid Benchegra
Abdel Ghani Benizza