Fender Bender Movie Review
Written by ZigZag
Released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Mark Pavia
2016, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on October 4th, 2016
Makenzie Vega as Hilary
Bill Sage as Driver
Dre Davis as Rachel
Kelsey Leos Montoya as Erik
Harrison Sim as Andy
In a small New Mexico town, Hilary, a seventeen-year-old high school student, is having a very bad day. She just caught her boyfriend cheating on her and, making matters worse, she is rear ended at a stop sign while driving her mother’s new car. Hilary exchanges information with the other driver and takes pictures of the accident, but agrees there is no need to involve the police. Her parents are livid to say the least, going so far as to abruptly ground her for the weekend, denying her from joining them on a long-planned family vacation. Later that stormy night, her friends Rachel and Erik surprise her at the house, and the trio is soon determined to cap off a shitty day in a festive way. Unfortunately, the driver from Hilary’s fender bender crashes the party and begins terrorizing everyone as he goes on a murderous rampage.
Fender Bender is a little light on plot, but builds on the simplicity with a generous dose of suspense. There is no mystery as to who the killer is, but the question becomes more what will he do and why, as he apparently chooses his victims at random. Writer/ director Mark Pavia (The Night Flyer) makes his long awaited cinematic return with Fender Bender, a love letter to the classic slasher film. Have we seen this plot of a masked stranger stalking teens countless times over the last three decades? Certainly, but Pavia is as much of a fan as we are; he is well aware the thrill comes from the game and knows how to play. The added twist here is the return to form, since the golden age of slasher films (1974-1984) frequently told variations on the same story, but almost always played the material straight. When the subgenre was revitalized in the mid-1990s, the popular trend was to err on the side of self-referential comedy. Pavia has no time for jokes, for his villain never strays from his deadly mission, and his targets are more interested in survival than punchlines.
Makenzie Vega (The Assault) stars as Hilary, the victim of both a cheating boyfriend and a ridiculously strict family unit. As far as I can see, this girl is a genuinely good person trying to do the right thing but is unable to catch a break, even when she does nothing wrong. She was not at fault in any way for the fender bender. She made certain to get all the relevant information from the other driver and even took pictures at the scene before leaving. Hilary gets more sympathy from the insurance agent on the phone than she does her own mother who blames her for the damage to the new car. Her parents’ reaction is over the top and is the first false note in an otherwise solid story, but leaving her home alone is a critical part of the classic slasher formula.
Actor Bill Sage (The Unbelievable Truth) is a familiar face to fans of Hal Hartley (Simple Men) films, and is a welcome addition here as the unnamed villainous Driver. In a way, Sage is almost playing two different characters in that the Driver’s public persona is a very different demeanor than when he is in “kill mode”. His minimalist approach to the role is both creepy and intimidating without being showy. He accomplishes a lot by respecting the quiet beats in a scene without always doing little bits of business to keep people watching his character. Some of my favorite moments in the film involve the Driver’s routine when he is alone. There is a lot revealed in his behavior that becomes apparent upon repeat viewing and this is a very clever way of giving information without pausing for a forced exposition dump.
The supporting cast does a fine job of keeping things moving, particularly Dre Davis (Scavenger Killers), the standout here as Hilary’s best friend Rachel. She shines in the scenes comforting her friend and proves quite an adversary when confronted by the killer. Kelsey Leos Montoya (The Guest) does not fare as well in the role of Erik, largely due to his tendency to chew the scenery. The character is a lot of fun and is important to the story, but the actor could benefit from dialing it back a bit, as his approach is the polar opposite to the work I just praised Bill Sage for delivering. All of the characters are forced to do some dumb things in order for the story to proceed to its intended conclusion, but Pavia’s script keeps these to a minimum. One example of forced behavior is that the telephone plays a critical part in the plot but nobody uses one to call the police. Similarly, when Hilary discovers someone has tampered with her phone, removing pictures of the accident and replacing them with photos taken minutes earlier of her in the shower, she is content to believe her friends are simply pranking her without actually confronting them.
Four years ago, Scream Factory made a name for itself by focusing on giving classic horror films of the 1970s and ‘80s some love by releasing deluxe special editions of many overlooked titles. The need to release contemporary material led to partnerships with Chiller TV and IFC Midnight Films. Now, Scream Factory (in association with Chiller) has stepped further into the arena and produced its first original title Fender Bender, a movie that serves both sides of their release model. This contemporary slasher is a strong debut for the company and will hopefully please audiences looking for some fresh blood. This is not a perfect movie, but Mark Pavia gets a lot of things right. A cool-looking villain stalking beautiful teens in an isolated house on a dark and stormy night? Yes, please. Fender Bender is a lot of fun no matter how you slice it, so call your friends, turn off the lights and treat yourself to a fun ride.
Video and Audio:
Any film shot in the last year should look terrific on Blu-ray and Fender Bender easily succeeds in meeting that criteria with a gorgeous transfer filled with strong detail and plenty of depth. Cinematographer Tyler Lee Cushing knows how to compose the 2.35:1 aspect ratio for maximum suspense and Scream Factory is as equally informed how to deliver a solid Bu-ray presentation.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1really comes to life during the second half of the picture once the weather turns and the thunderstorm invades all speakers. There is a nice balance to the music and effects tracks in that they are prominent without becoming dominant. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Scream Factory continues to impress with creative supplemental features as this love letter to 1980s horror films is given a bonus retro-VHS presentation. This version comes with a full-frame 1.33:1 pan-and-scan image and standard definition transfer. Older viewers will appreciate the subtle touches that accompany this edition, including a special introduction.
The first of two audio commentaries is with Mark Pavia, and is moderated by Rob Galluzzo, who does an excellent job keeping the director on topic for this fast-moving discussion. Pavia has a lot of information to share and his energy and enthusiasm are infectious as he delivers a rapid-fire series of anecdotes from the production.
The second commentary features producers Gus Krieger, Joshua Bunting and Carl Lucas delivering a "drinking game" version of the film in which they provide much additional information on the making of the picture.
A behind-the-scenes featurette (9 minutes) includes on-set footage intercut with talking head interviews with Pavia and key cast members including both Sage and Vega.
The original trailer and TV spot are included for a glimpse at the marketing campaign.
Rounding out the special features on this disc is the Scream Factory Slashback Trailer Reel (39 minutes) of assorted goodies; a collection of classic horror previews for several slasher films, including Halloween 2, Sleepaway Camp, The Burning, Schizoid, The Final Terror, Final Exam, Slumber Party Massacre, New Year's Evil and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.