Would You Pick Up The Passenger (PANIC)?
Title: The Passenger
First Non-Festival Release: February 18, 2022 (Limited Theatrical Release)
Director: Raúl Cerezo, Fernando Gonazález Gómez
Writer: Luis Sánchez-Polack, Asier Guerricaechebarría, Javier Echániz
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Starring: Ramiro Blas, Cecilia Suárez, Paula Gallego
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2022.
Van driver Blasco (Ramiro Blas) embarks on another lengthy road trip transporting passengers from the city to deep in the countryside. Among his most recent passengers is a mother, Mariela (Cecilia Suárez), and daughter, Marta (Paula Gallego), on their way to Marta’s father place where she will stay while her mother takes on a new international job. Marta isn’t happy with it but thankfully Lidia (Cristina Alcázar), a sympathetic nurse who is facing her own battles, is there to lend an ear to Mariela's troubles. Despite the women’s complaints of Blasco’s personality, the trip is going off without a hitch. It is, until they hit a stranded motorist and decide to transport them to the hospital. Unfortunately for them, this will not be their final foray into violence that night.
The Passenger is an uneven adventure in alien parasite mayhem that fails to inject much laughter or scares in its perilous journey.
While it never claims to tell the most introspective of stories, the plot of The Passenger gets stale rather quickly. Once the crew pick up the titular passenger, the film devolves into a typical run, drive, then hide scenario that noticeably wears its welcome. There is very little done to continually escalate the tension which results in a sense of stagnation even though the film is dynamic in location. Beyond a few throwaway lines about conspiracy theories, not much is done to build on the story either, leaving much to be desired on what is exactly happening. There is something to say about letting the mayhem speak for itself, but in terms of plot development it hurts the film.
Tonally jarring, the story suffers from serious identity crisis. Already sporting a razor thin plot, the film cannot decide what route to take in terms of exhibiting the horror of a parasitic alien creature invasion. Rough transitions between sugary sweet horror comedy to full blown horror leave viewers confused and skeptical at what is to come next. Bizarre reactions to terrifying situations are met with overcorrections when reacting to the horror later. The whiplash is worse than what the characters get after the myriad of car crashes on screen. Thankfully, the film barrels through to capitalize on raw carnage in the form of a relentless chase by its monster.
What The Passenger lacks in overall story, it makes up for with memorable characters and a strong cast. At the center of The Passenger is the abrasive and overtly chauvinistic Blasco portrayed by the confident and charming Ramiro Blas. His blasé attitude towards social mores gets him in trouble often with the adult women but helps crack the hard exterior of the guarded Marta. In the hands of less capable writers, and actor for that matter, Blasco would either be unbearable in terms of his bravado or unceremoniously fully redeemed for his behaviors. Instead, he is given an arduous journey where he makes mistakes and makes hard choices for Marta’s survival that feel genuine.
Longing for a father figure but afraid to show such weakness, Marta bonds with Blasco over music and other pop culture, much to her mother’s chagrin. Once the action picks up, it would be expected for Blasco to drop Marta with ease. The Passenger subverts this expectation by adding dimension to its main characters where other films fail. Blasco recognizes his failures, shows appreciation for Mariela and Lidia’s strength, and steps up to protect Marta from the impossible odds. Marta and Mariela, however, both express their love for and desire to protect each other, often at odds with their own survival.
Inklings of a great film peer through a by-the-numbers script and weak one-liners in The Passenger. While on its journey to deliver an energetic horror comedy, it breaks down in the no man’s land of almost funny but never scary. Despite colorful characters and a desire to keep the pace at break-neck speeds, this parasitic road trip film does not generate the hype necessary to recommend it enthusiastically. Some may enjoy its sense of humor and others might love its solid use of special effects. At the end of the day, if you want to be The Passenger on this Spanish adventure, know what’s to expect before calling shotgun.
Overall Score? 5.5/10