Fender Bender (2016)

JUNE 2, 2016

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: DVD (SCREENER)

Thanks to the existence, and, far as I'm concerned, UTTER PERFECTION of Halloween, you can't ever really fault a filmmaker for mimicking any part of it for his own slasher film. Sure, it probably won't be as good, but a slasher fan will have to find something else to complain about unless he wants to sound stupid. Case in point, Fender Bender has a low body count compared to many other slashers, but it's also identical to Halloween's (even the sexes are the same - three girls, two guys) and not a lot of motivation for our murderer, but to consider these things a detriment is to say Halloween is also wrong in those departments. You can't have it both ways; either a slasher flick is allowed such behavior, or it's not.

And actually, we do get a "motive" of sorts, one that actually made me smile as it almost seemed like writer/director Mark Pavia was making fun of the very idea of explaining everything. I wouldn't dare spoil it for you, but if you can honestly tell me that it's worse/stupider than what we ultimately learned about Michael Myers, or even any number of one-off killers with shockingly silly motivations (Urban Legend 2 and Shredder come to mind), then I'll quit reviewing slasher movies. However, I ask you to think about it for a few minutes - yes, what we see is goofy (in a charming way), but even real life murderers have odd "traditions" - phases of the moon, shared birthdays, etc. (not to mention the so-called "Alphabet Killer"), and his thing fits in just fine with those. I'll take simple over complicated any day of the week.

The reveal also erased one of the problems I had with the movie, which is that he didn't use his car enough. Again I don't want to get into the killer's particular MO, but it works out, if perhaps a bit too late. I mean, the killer is called The Driver and the movie is titled Fender Bender - I was hoping for a little Highwaymen/Death Proof-esque vehicular manslaughter. He only uses a car for one kill (and it's a good one), which until we know why he prefers to be on foot seems like a waste of a killer/concept. Luckily, Pavia makes up for it with a pretty sweet costume, accentuated by a black leather mask that gives him a Prowler/Harry Warden-esque appearance - it definitely passes my "Would I want an action figure/model kit of him?" test, always a big plus for me with a modern slasher. Especially for one where we know who the killer is - we see him unmasked early on when the eponymous incident occurs (and it's a recognizable actor too - Bill Sage from We Are What We Are and the "other" The Boy), so there's no reason to mask him for the audience's benefit - it's just cool, dammit.

And I think that's why I dug the movie - Pavia clearly has respect for the slasher genre, even though he is actively aware that doing the usual thing just doesn't cut it anymore. I've ranted over and over that we need more slashers, but the simple fact remains that you can't really DO those kind of movies anymore - the locations (and holidays) have all been used over and over, and the simplicity of the older ones can't be replicated anymore, as we just expect too much from our modern films. Add in cell phones and GPS and all of the other things that didn't exist when the best slasher movies were made, and you realize that filmmakers have to adapt - with a sub-genre that has a pretty rigid formula. Pavia has found a way to straddle that line, making a "throwback" (most of which suck) in some ways but not shying away from modern touches - our characters have and use cell phones, and our heroine learns about the killer's previous misdeeds within hours of reporting their accident to her insurance company. I think about movies like My Bloody Valentine, where an important plot point hinges on the lack of information being available at one's fingertips (namely, Harry Warden's current living situation) - that wouldn't fly today, so you can't do that kind of storyline anymore unless you compress it to a couple hours, max. In his own little way, Pavia found a way to live up to old-school slasher standards without a bunch of contrivances (we can generalize it with the "no signal" approach), and in a way even using technology as a tool to tell his story without it being intrusive.

I do wish the accident was as drastic as its outcome for our heroine though. The Driver rear-ends her, and basically just scrapes up the paint on her rear bumper, but she acts as if the car was totaled. And she's also grounded; while to be fair the grounding is technically for taking the car without asking, it all still feels like her whole world was thrown into upheaval for the sort of accident that you'd forget ever happened (and, again, wasn't even her fault). The parents' punishment is also a bit odd, as they decide not to take her to a show they're planning to go to as a family, and go away for the weekend without her. A 17 year old girl being "punished" by not having to hang out with her parents and getting the house to herself for a night or two doesn't exactly track - perhaps they should have reworked it a bit to have it so she pretended to be sick or had too much homework to do or something so that they'd leave her behind and she could get the car fixed before they noticed (it's her mom's car that's damaged and the parents take the dad's, I should explain). It'd feel a bit more realistic, I think, instead of leaving me kind of puzzled about everyone's reaction to a pretty simple, not particularly damaging bump on the road.

WARNING: this next paragraph is MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY so please do not read it if you don't want part of the film's ending given away!!!

But ultimately, same as with the "motive", the film's conclusion made it easy for me to overlook its occasional lapses, because it didn't commit one of my pet peeve "sins" for this kind of movie - our heroine does not survive against this veteran serial killer. I don't need every movie like this to end on a grim note, but I've always been annoyed when they establish that our killer (or family of killers!) has been doing this for years without incident, but our protagonist manages to off them or at least escape by doing pretty standard things like "run away" or "fight back". You're Next is one of the few I can think of that actually gave an explanation for why THIS hero/heroine succeeded, because we learn Sharni Vinson's character has had extensive survival training - I loved that! But our girl here hasn't been so fortunate, and when she discovered that The Driver had like dozens of licenses of his previous victims (most of them older than her) I had to roll my eyes, assuming she'd somehow overcome this guy when none of the others had ever been able to. So when I was proven wrong, I was pleasantly surprised - sure, it's a bummer, but it's not really nihilistic or anything - Pavia doesn't want to send you on your way laughing, but he doesn't seem to want to depress you either. It's just how it is.

Long story short, it gets more right than wrong, and is another winner for the Scream Factory/Chiller partnership that also yielded Bite. I wish it had one surprise in its narrative earlier, because until the last five minutes or so it's kind of basic (not BAD, just pretty meat-and-potatoes), and it would have been nice to have been won over sooner, but as I've said in the past - better an OK movie has a great finale than a great movie sputtering out of gas and ending on a shrug. And it's a modern slasher where the heroine's boyfriend isn't fucking her best friend (he IS cheating on her, but with some random we don't see/care about, and she takes her revenge on him to boot) and the group of pals seem to genuinely like each other, so even if it DID have a shitty ending I'd probably recommend the movie on the strength of that alone. Enough with the toxic friendships in these things! Let us LIKE the people, even if most of them are gonna end up dead!

What say you?

2 comments:

  1. Nice writeup and I enjoyed the movie also. One thing I disagree with you on is you said the accident should have been more major. A fender bender is a minor traffic accident and this also helps you not necessary make a big deal about the accident when it happens. This guy is a psycho and a rather normal accident occurence set him off or is a reason for himn to go off. Typical killer.

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    1. That's not what I said, exactly. I said it should have been bigger considering how everyone (meaning her and her parents) act about it. It makes total sense for him and his MO. It does not make much sense for her to act like the world has ended because someone tapped her and was at fault. Hence my alternate suggestion for the rest of the events.

      By your own defense the movie screws it up - "helps you not necessary (sic) make a big deal about..." - they DO make a big deal out of it, which is the problem.

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