Blending rideshare horror with more traditional road trip terrors, The Passenger (La Pasajera) begins with driver Blasco (Ramiro Blas, Down a Dark Hall, [REC] 4: Apocalypse) talking the ear off of the less than impressed Mariela (Cecilia Suárez, This Is Not a Comedy, The House of Flowers: The Movie) who is on her way to see her father. They make a stop to pick up Lidia (Cristina Alcázar, Physics or Chemistry, Seven Minutes) who is taking her daughter Marta (Paula Gallego) to the girl’s father so she can leave the country.
It’s obvious that this is going to be a long trip in more ways than one. Blasco’s van has a cassette player in it and that may be the most modern thing about the van or its driver. He has a casual way of saying bigoted and misogynist things that is straight out of the 70s and doesn’t sit well with the women. On top of that, Lidia and Marta are not exactly what you would call a happy family.
Directors Raúl Cerezo and Fernando González Gómez (Estándar), working from a script by Luis Sánchez-Polack (La Fina) take their time getting into things. They’re content to let The Passenger’s first twenty minutes play out like a light comedy, complete with drone shots of the ancient van accompanied by an amusingly pompous score. It’s all fun and games until Basco decides to take a shortcut through the hills.
Once darkness falls things quickly get interesting as Blasco finds what looks like a crashed spaceship by the side of the road and Marta gets bitten by what looks like a mobile pile of intestines. But it’s not until they hit a woman standing in the road that things really get weird.
Cerezo and Gómez have delivered an energetic and fun riff on the alien parasite theme. The infected in The Passenger have an odd, almost Evil Dead like quality to them at times. At others, they act in ways that are quite different, such as crawling around on all fours while sniffing out their prey like a hunting dog.
This plays especially well in the locations most of The Passenger is shot in. A dark forest, a deserted gas station and the claustrophobic interior of the van itself. Cinematographer Ignacio Aguilar gets the most out of these settings and does an especially good job of making the gas station seem like a well-lighted oasis surrounded by threatening darkness. And the forest, always a favourite setting for genre films, looks equal parts beautiful and dangerous as the film’s characters try to escape through it.
Similarly, the film’s effects are much better than expected for a low-budget film. The makers of The Passenger wisely opted for practical effects rather than digital ones and the difference is very noticeable. The effects showing the infected’s ability to cover large amounts of ground almost instantly look like they were done by altering the camera speed, although a couple look like they might have had a bit of digital enhancement. But the important effects such as the appearance of the infected, the gore and even the UFO itself are done the old-fashioned way.
I did have some issues with the characters themselves in the film’s opening. None of them are very likable. But as The Passenger goes on the survivors start to show more of themselves under pressure. Some of them never actually become likable, but they do become more relatable and by the end of the film I cared about the fate of all of them. The film’s writers deserve considerable credit for doing most of this via seemingly casual conversation, especially between Blasco and Marta.
And speaking of the film’s end, several reviews from The Passenger’s festival run called the ending surprising or even shocking. It isn’t and most genre fans will guess it well in advance. That said, it’s carried off with a final shot that doesn’t change anything but did get an intentional and unexpected chuckle from me.
Fast-paced and a lot of fun The Passenger while not quite on a level with the best of Paul Naschy or The Blind Dead can take a place alongside REC as one of the better modern Spanish genre films.
The Passenger gets a limited theatrical release on June 3rd and will be available on VOD and Digital platforms as well as DVD on June 28th via Dark Star Pictures and Bloody Disgusting. And as always, FilmTagger has a few other options if this isn’t quite what you were looking for.