Studio: Shout Factory and Chiller Films
Director: Mark Pavia
Writer: Mark Pavia
Producer: Jordan Fields, Gus Krieger, Carl Lucas, Joshua Bunting
Stars: Makenzie Vega, Dre Davis, Cassidy Freeman, Kelsey Montoya, Harrison Sim, Steven Michael Quezada, Lora Cunningham, Bill Sage
A masked killer stalks a teenage girl home alone after the two of them exchange personal information in an auto accident.
A few weeks ago, I was hit from behind by a car. Four cars, actually. At least one person wasn’t paying attention when traffic came to a stop, piledriving a chain reaction of front bumpers into rear bumpers, in turn creating a whole lot of headaches, figurative and literal, for everyone involved.
I made out better than most as the car furthest in front. The next two cars however, knocked into me as a sandwich of twisted metal courtesy of the two trucks behind them.
With more fictional horror stories than can be remembered having passed through my mind over the years, my imagination had a lot of dark road to wander while waiting for CHP to arrive on scene and take a report. I lost count of the many macabre scenarios quickly dreamed up alongside the freeway.
What if a celebrity stalker intentionally rear-ended his/her target just to get that person out of the car? What if a serial killer was transporting a trunk full of bodies and his secret was exposed as corpses spilled all over the concrete? And being obligated by circumstance to give out my name, number, address, and email to four complete strangers, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if one of these people is a psychotic killer determined to track the rest of us down and destroy our lives?
That last uncomfortable thought inspires the premise behind filmmaker Mark Pavia’s stripped-down thriller “Fender Bender” from Shout Factory and Chiller Films. If you’ve ever feared how an auto accident could go from annoying inconvenience to extraordinary nightmare, “Fender Bender” provides reason to lose sleep the next time you hand over personal info to the driver who just clipped your side-view mirror.
Hilary thinks she has it bad when she discovers her boyfriend Andy has another girl on the side. Hilary has it even worse when a mysterious man bangs into her from behind while she contemplates these teenage troubles at a stop sign.
An awkward encounter ensues with the other driver shifting and speaking strangely, like a predator sizing prey from behind mirrored sunglasses and an uncomfortable grin. Hilary’s spider-sense tingles, but she takes a few snapshots, exchanges contact information, and continues home to face the music for the damage done to mom’s brand new Nissan.
Hilary ends up grounded. Instead of going away with her parents as planned, Hilary now has to spend her weekend home alone. She isn’t alone for long though. Spotting the mystery man’s car rolling by outside is only the first of many odd encounters experienced throughout the night, culminating in a full-on home invasion perpetrated by a knife-clutching maniac in a frightening leather mask.
Teases of cool cleverness wink throughout “Fender Bender,” particularly in its design for “The Driver,” the film’s credit for its nameless madman. In addition to his “Death Race”-like leather Frankenstein look, The Driver has an ingenious movie villain method of using loose change to determine his next random victim. Like Michael Myers, The Driver is mostly a catalyst for carnage, and that conception of his character is indicative of much of the movie’s to-the-point approach.
There’s a chance you may find yourself wishing “Fender Bender” covered more ground with its “opening up one’s self to an auto accident stranger” concept than the movie has the means, or inclination, to explore. But “Fender Bender” desires simplicity as a straightforward slasher with a mild VCR vibe.
Sometimes, the slender script and stark style are so skeletal that there isn’t even a pulse to pound. Early scenes stall for time by hanging on establishing shots like Hilary sulking in her bedroom or The Driver caressing the paper with Hilary’s address during a seems-like-forever car wash. Tension starts tightening with the usual false jump scares, although there are only so many minutes one can watch Hilary stare wide-eyed at a noise in the dark before blaming the storm outside again.
Confined almost entirely to one location and centered almost solely on one person, “Fender Bender” starves somewhat from a scarcity of characters and scene setups. When Hilary is finally forced to muster her Final Girl courage, she has to defy dopiness that doesn’t make her endearing in the first place. “Maybe whoever sneaked in on me while showering before secretly deleting the accident pictures on my phone was my best friend playing a prank!” “Maybe the person who put a cake on the car iced with ‘sorry’ in black letters was my ex-boyfriend apologizing!” Maybe believability could benefit from a protagonist with a better brain.
Gorehounds hungry for a throat-grabbing slasher would probably prefer to swap the slow-witted teen and her paltry two friends for the higher body count thrills of a college kid party instead. At the same time, “Fender Bender” can’t be faulted for fitting the bill it needs to, which is being a respectable first foray into original movie production from Shout Factory created for a Chiller TV debut. The movie is designed to be a no muss, no fuss, no frills thriller. It makes perfect sense as an inexpensive freshman film for the home video distribution label.
“Fender Bender” isn’t a movie you’ll ache to return to after a one-and-done viewing, but it functions just fine as a Friday night feature for a quick bite of cable television horror. It helps to get in the spirit if you’ve ever caught yourself considering, “what evil could this person get up to with my personal contact information?” If you’ve never considered it before, you certainly might now.
Review Score: 60