Horror flicks that occur on the open, deserted road always seem to be popular; I guess it’s because just about all of us can relate to that feeling of isolation, that loneliness, that can only be felt on a long drive on a lonely, country road. I’ll wager a lot of you out there have been in similar circumstances — I know I have — where you’re travelling along, all by your lonesome, and you see headlights approaching quickly from behind…your mind gets to working, and you recall all those warnings your parents gave you…all those damned horror movies you watched. You check the gas gauge; am I good? How about oil? Those headlights are getting closer…what’s with this guy? Oh, Christ…is that the “check engine” light??
…then, he passes by you, his taillights fading into the night ahead, and you relax, furrowing your brow and muttering “what’s your hurry, asshole?” with new bravado as you chide yourself for your fears.
Moments like this are what horror fans live for…and why films like Joyride, The Car, Christine, Dead End, and Duel find a niche in our collective memories. It’s a perfect setup for us real people in the real world to relate to.
Michael Bafaro’s new film, Wrecker, is the latest of such films to set itself to work it’s way into that niche.
Emily and Leslie, BFFs, are headed down to sunny California from Seattle in Emily’s shiny red Mustang 5.0. Although the purpose of their journey is never specifically stated, we glean from the conversation that Emily has had a bad run with her boyfriend, and although she seems to want to acquiesce and accept that he’s cheated, Leslie will have none of it, and has insisted on this trip to help Emily find her strength and escape this poison relationship.
Their trip (cruising, of course, on the scenic highways rather than the interstate system; much more interesting, and less traffic…in fact, virtually NO traffic) hits a snag when they come across a large diesel wrecker, pulling a junked car, that’s hogging the road and driving like molasses in the winter. Passing the guy, Leslie makes her displeasure at his crappy driving be known…and this begins a cycle of the wrecker continuously popping up, harassing the two women by cutting them off, almost flagging them around into oncoming traffic, and assorted other traffic dick-moves. Stopping off at a diner, the pair find that the wrecker too, is there. Emily tries to determine which patron is the driver, but her instincts fail her. From this point, the harassment on the road becomes more sinister, more dangerous, and it’s not long before the pair of young women find themselves struggling for survival on the barren back roads…
First off, I want to address the glaring parallels to the 1971 classic Duel: red car (Mustang instead of Plymouth Valiant)…weak-willed heroine (very similar to Dennis Weaver’s mild-mannered electronics salesman), mysterious, psychotic trucker who is never seen, except for an arm…even the diner scene where the identity of the driver is attempted to be uncovered…there are more examples, but you get the picture. IMDB’s trivia section on the film says that it’s a remake of the Spielberg film, but I’ve heard of no solid confirmation on that as of yet.
Now, all of that said, the film itself is largely well-done, the cinematography and on-the-road shots being convincing for the most part — I would have personally preferred a bit more realism on both the high-speed shots and certain other aspects of what was going on with the vehicles (I find it difficult to believe that the diesel wrecker could so easily keep pace with the high-performance car), but for the purposes of suspense and atmosphere, I think things were handled well. Performances were solid all around, with Anna Hutchison in the lead role of Emily really turning in an impressive portrayal; her transformation from timid, good girl to terrified victim and finally to someone who’s not going to be pushed anymore is realistically handled, and her performance of these many facets was convincing without dipping into contrivance. Other than one obvious but forgivable digital effect, there wasn’t much in the way of FX; the film takes more of a minimalist approach, suggesting more so than showing you the horrors, leaving most things outside of the driving to your imagination. The flick is essentially a (largely) bloodless monster movie, with the steaming nostrils and gleaming fangs replaced with a diesel smokestack and sinister grill — I found this effective (as I did with Duel ), but I can see where the more hardcore gore fans would be put off by this.
The only real problem I can find with this film beyond the disappointment of gorehounds is that you’re not really going to see anything you haven’t seen in other films of this nature…but as I’ve often said, it’s tough to make any horror film these days that’s completely original. Besides, it may very well have been Bafaro’s intent to remake/homage Duel, and if that is the case, then I have to say that he did a fine job of putting a modern spin on the tale without cheapening the classic original.
While it’s not one that’s going to blow your mind, for those who can dig a film that relies on atmosphere without a lot of exposition, or especially those Fellow Fans out there who’ve never seen Duel, I can see where this could be a nice popcorn flick on a cool fall evening.
For what it’s worth, that’s my two.