Synopsis: Randy is perfectly content fading into the background. But when his co-worker Benson goes on a sudden and violent rampage leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, Randy is forced to face his fears and confront his troubled past in order to survive.
Stars: Kyle Gallner, Johnny Berchtold, Liza Weil, Billy Slaughter, Kanesha Washington
Director: Carter Smith
Running Length: 94 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Here’s a perfect example of why watching a preview can ruin the natural discovery you get when watching a movie. While the trailer for The Passenger doesn’t tell you everything you can expect to find if you decide to hop on an intense road trip with two men from the same non-descript small town, it does reveal a vital pivot point that might have held a decent element of surprise at the end of the first act. Knowing what awaited me, I began the movie with a specific idea of certain characters without letting the film define them for me as it played out.
That may not seem like a big deal for most, and from what I gather when talking about this with friends and family, it hasn’t bothered them on the same level that it does for me. When I break it down for them and say, “But what if you went in not knowing this <insert any moment from the Scream VI trailer> was going to happen?” that’s when it clicks, and they realize how much was spoiled in advance. Now, The Passenger doesn’t hit Scream-level spoilers, but if you can’t tell, I’d urge you not to watch any preview in advance and go in as blind as possible.
By all accounts, it looks like it will be another mundane day for Randy (Johnny Berchtold). We can tell by his room, house, car, and how he holds himself that he’s settled into a stagnancy that won’t change anytime soon. Small-town life doesn’t just suit him, it is him, and he’s blending into the scenery. Even showing up at his job, a roadside burger joint, barely receives any notice from his horny co-workers Jess (Jordan Sherley, Do Revenge) and Chris (Matthew Laureano), his boss (Billy Slaughter, The Magnificent Seven), or Benson (Kyle Gallner, Smile), another lone wolf like himself.
Today is not going to be like any other day, however. And it’s not because of the good news that his boss asked him if he’d be interested in a management position at a new (better) location nearby or because Chris humiliates him in front of the others as they prepare to open. After a shocking outburst of disgusting violence, Benson will take a vested interest in Randy’s future and bring him along for a ride that will push him past his limits. In a mad attempt to break Randy out of his cocoon, Benson goes to extreme lengths to force a change in the docile man, uncovering secrets from his past and using them twistedly to open his eyes to the world around them.
With its brief, but stomach-churning, eruptions of violence (some of which skids the line of bad taste), The Passenger arrives at its destination with most of its important pieces intact. That’s thanks partly to a tight script from Jack Stanley (Lou) and more focused direction from Carter Smith than he displayed in 2022’s Swallowed. Smith also draws more consistent performances here, with Bechtold and especially Gallner creating distinct, deeply flawed men with more issues to be worked out than can be handled in a 94-minute car ride. There’s excellent supporting work from Liza Weil as a critical influence from Randy’s past and especially Kanesha Washington as a diner waitress who stands out in two pivotal scenes.
How much mileage you get out of The Passenger may be in your ability to look past the film’s tendency for overzealous violence and instead appreciate the way it attempts to be a character study of the trickle-down effect of the bully. Both men are bullies in their own ways, but digging into how they resolve those issues and their fractured histories is where the film fires on all cylinders.
THE PASSENGER will be on Digital and On Demand on August 4, 2023
and coming to MGM+ later in 2023.