Studio: Dread Presents
Director: D.C. Hamilton
Writer: Brinna Kelly
Producer: Brinna Kelly, D.C. Hamilton, Gino Anthony Pesi, Kristin Starns
Stars: Gino Anthony Pesi, Brinna Kelly, Jason Stuart
A cab driver and his passenger become caught in a time loop during which they form a unique relationship linked to a mysterious shared past.
I don¡¯t hold high, or even midrange hopes for Dread releases. In my reviews of their two immediately preceding films, ¡°Artik¡± (review here) and ¡°Candy Corn¡± (review here), I twice claimed I might be done covering Dread Presents completely. Although one of their movies may manage to break through here and there, even the label¡¯s better titles rarely rise above a ceiling of ¡°fair to middling.¡± The rest are frankly forgettable or flat out bad.
¡°The Fare¡± didn¡¯t outwardly appear any different. It stars two unfamiliar faces, one of whom also wrote the screenplay. That¡¯s never encouraging since unknown actors too commonly use indie projects purely as vanity vehicles.
The film also made its festival appearances at less prominent events, hardly rounding the tastemaker scene responsible for putting buzzy movies on genre fan radars. ¡°The Fare¡± still kicked up fanfare, though much of it came from suspect sources such as people within two degrees of separation from Dread or sites whose ¡°reviews¡± praise practically everything.
Yet ¡°The Fare¡± kept tantalizing me with vague teases whenever I¡¯d see it mentioned somewhere. While I was wary of being fooled for a 21st time, the promise of a Twilight Zone-y template, twisty chills, and a gooey romantic center sounded offbeat enough to be worth chancing another Dread disappointment, so I elected to take a plunge anyway. The risk finally paid off for a change.
On a remote road in the desert, taxicab driver Harris and his passenger Penny get along like they¡¯ve known each other for a long time. Then a dark storm approaches and Penny suddenly disappears.
Shaken and confused over his mysteriously vanished fare, Harris hears from his dispatcher that he should simply reset his meter. Harris flips the switch for a new fare, but inexplicably goes back to picking up Penny again. Harris has no memory of meeting her the first time, yet Penny remembers everything. In fact, she tells Harris they¡¯ve done this at least 100 times already.
Touching Penny restores the cab driver¡¯s recollection, and turns the movie from black and white to color. Harris learns and Penny recounts that no matter what they change, e.g. their direction of travel or getting out and walking, they always loop back to identical circumstances.
Harris and Penny gradually give up on finding a way out and give in to making the most of their time together. They talk about everything from horticulture and comic book king Jack Kirby to lost loves and unhappy marriages. They even play ¡®F*ck, Marry, Kill¡¯ while growing closer, eventually becoming intimate.
New complications come up when Harris finally realizes time isn¡¯t exactly repeating. Penny knows something he doesn¡¯t about what¡¯s really going on. However, discovering the truth behind their trip through presumed purgatory requires Harris to confront a stunning revelation he may not be ready to handle.
¡°The Fare¡¯s¡± looks can be deceiving in more ways that one. Superficially speaking, the film has nearly no fancy dressing, exposing a low-end budget for all eyes to see. 98% of proceedings take place inside the cab. Interchangeable establishing shots of dark desert highways compose the other 2%. Reliant on fogged windows and faked process shots while confined to a 6¡¯x6¡¯ space, ¡°The Fare¡± often puts on the appearance of a made-for-cable movie from the 1990s.
I can still touch the tree¡¯s trunk while going out on a limb to assume most viewers don¡¯t know co-stars Gino Anthony Pesi or Brinna Kelly by name. Often isolated as the only characters onscreen, the duo gets called upon to carry almost all 80 minutes of the movie on their acting alone. That¡¯s a tall order for unproven performers to drive drama for such an expansive period of time.
As mentioned earlier, Brinna Kelly also wrote the script. A look at her IMDb page shows just five credits for Kelly as both actress and writer, three of them shorts, two of them features, and all of them helmed by ¡°The Fare¡± director D.C. Hamilton. I don¡¯t know the personal relationship between Kelly and Hamilton. But as also alluded to above, you don¡¯t often discover oil when digging with creative partners who exclusively serve each other¡¯s interests.
Spartan imagery and unestablished talent lays a foundation for low expectations. Surprisingly, ¡°The Fare¡± goes on to upend uneasy assumptions. It comes together cleverly through careful composition with creative confidence that defies what limited experience and resources should be able to pull off.
The plot¡¯s pivot turns out to be a genuine doozey. Mystery-centric movies often hinge on their twists, leaving those moments as their narrative peaks. The audience finds out so-and-so was a ghost the whole time or whatever. Then the film puts its palms together, satisfied that one simple, often predictable shock equals cinematic contentment.
Uniquely imaginative and deeply developed, ¡°The Fare¡¯s¡± big reveal contextually changes everything both before and after with devastating consequences. Much more than a mere ¡°gotcha,¡± the moment comes complemented by rich background adding bittersweet heartbreak to Harris and Penny¡¯s relationship.
One of the revelation¡¯s ripples retroactively roots ¡°The Fare¡¯s¡± rough atmosphere in justified dreaminess. No longer seeming solely like frugal set design or soundstage shortcuts, ¡°The Fare¡¯s¡± weirdo environment suddenly makes a strange sort of sense. The lead-up still requires audience imaginations to buy into the setting¡¯s relative cheapness. Once explanations are out in the open however, hindsight takes ¡°The Fare¡± off the hook for some of its technical shortfalls.
After that, remaining nags relate mostly to iffy timing. Idling sequences of Harris listening to goofy talk radio shows or picking up comic relief passengers offer fleeting flickers of amusement. A trim to such ancillary content could only improve pacing. ¡°The Fare¡± once again asks viewers to resist urges to roll eyes when sentimentality drenches instead of drips in the last reel too. A willing mind may need to make up some miles the film cannot capably cover on these fronts, but the ROI makes disbelief suspension worthwhile.
Against my external uncertainties, ¡°The Fare¡± won me over by its conclusion, primarily through persuasive performances built around a suspenseful setup. Dialogue flows organically, allowing Pesi and Kelly to relax into pleasing personalities. They casually build complicated characters without their chemistry feeling forced. Their romance becomes infectious, continually incentivizing investment in its outcome by regularly introducing new beats to intriguingly alter their arcs.
Said simply, ¡°The Fare¡± rewarded me with a cool little story I didn¡¯t see coming. I can only respond by rewarding it with a definite thumbs up.
Review Score: 80