In noting that Fender Bender is Shout! Factory’s first producing credit, I wish the following words were a bit more positive.
Spoiler alert: they aren’t.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that horror movies are easy to make (hence the quantity), yet deceptively hard to execute (hence a massive genre quality gap). Anyone can recreate deaths on-screen, but it takes skill to avoid driving in the same circles as so many filmmakers before. Take Fender Bender as your latest example, where filmmaker Mark Pavia dilutes an original idea with stale, musty slasher generics that have been dominating too many of my reviews lately. A select few moments shine – mostly involving gnarly gore effects – but the sum of this creepy driver’s rampage is nothing but a bland home invasion/slasher wannabe told through a weak, timid voice.
Young Hilary (Makenzie Vega) is a brand-new driver, out for a ride with her mother’s also new vehicle. While stopped at an intersection, she’s rear-ended by another driver (Bill Sage) who suggests they trade information. Nervous and fresh-faced, Hilary gets the man’s information and returns home with the bad news. Upset, Hilary’s parents decide she’s no longer allowed to attend their planned family vacation. All alone, Hilary starts to believe someone is watching her – and that’s when she receives a mysterious text message from the driver she met earlier. Looks like her fender-bender might have deadly consequences, both for Hilary and the two friends keeping her company.
Fender Bender is supposed to rev your engines but blows a flat mere minutes into the lackluster mayhem. When the killer presents himself within the film’s opening scene, his uniquely car-themed mask kickstarts our intrigue like a jolt of energy. Could we be introduced to a worthy new slasher villain, whose borderline BDSM-meets-Pep-Boys theme strikes fear instead of mockery?
Nope, not in the least.
As quickly as “the driver” introduces himself, a lack of background information and silly Jason-like agility makes him nothing but a black leather copycat. In a Death Proof kind of way, Bill Sage embodies this long-gazing weirdo who obviously harbors dark intentions. Come nighttime, he then morphs into a lame-duck, slow moving murderer whose headlight/grill mask is the only defining factor presented. No wackadoo personality, no memorable encounters and certainly no lasting impressions to be made. There’s hope for sequel inspiration here, but, unfortunately, nothing excites me about a second set of laps for our new-car-smell “driver.”
The problem with Fender Bender is that Mark Pavia’s direction is obvious, expected and forcibly mundane. Cinematography does nothing to beautify shots, which lump entire scenes into the heap of straight-to-dvd horror visuals that fill Walmart bargain bins. You have a killer who looks evil, but also a story that drags without much danger – and certainly no fear. We know the driver is coming to stalk Hilary, we know know her friends will die, and nothing is done to make the journey somewhat interesting.
By way of a gruesome death, Dre Davis becomes a highlight amongst Fender Bender’s typical stabby-stabby material. Her character Rachel has the unfortunate luck of getting caught by “the driver” (after fighting back), survives a second-story window fall, yet cannot escape being turned to roadkill. While the other kills are just quick slashings (with his spackle smoother knife?), this is the one moment that Pavia shows how grimy and nasty his horror vision can be – a brief glimpse that cannot outweigh the entirety of his disenchanted nightmare.
Lead actress Makenzie Vega asserts herself as a future genre star – despite getting some lackluster supporting performances – but that still can’t help Fender Bender from becoming more of the same slasher nothingness we’ve seen one gazillion times before (last week’s Most Likely To Die). Like I said, it’s easy to make a slasher film – but to make a good one it takes skill, time, and killer instinct. While ambition is clearly present, this is just another notch on any horror fan’s belt of abuse. You’ll make it through, but there won’t be much worth remembering, or fearing, once the checkered flag signifies completion.
Fender Bender runs the exact same repetitive circles as so many other hopeful slasher films, defining itself by unmemorable generics.