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Sunday, October 15, 2023

The Passenger 2023 * * * 1/2 Stars


2023's The Passenger is a disturbing little cabochon of a pic, a drama-thriller that almost masks as an akin hangout movie for sociopaths of the killing kind. For 94 well-adjusted minutes that feel earned, "Passenger" lets you into its small-town sphere, loosely populated by townies and grubby landscapes and melancholia and one greasy spoon diner. I mean who knew "Passenger's" shooting location (New Orleans, LA) would look like the Midwest in the deadened beginnings of autumn. I didn't.

Distributed by Blumhouse Productions (but doesn't feel like it) and directed by a dude who fashions his white trash antagonist as a big brother type bent on teaching living lessons (Maine native Carter Smith), The Passenger chronicles fast food worker Randolph Bradley (Johnny Berchtold). When Randy is in the middle of preparing for his shift, his fellow co-worker (Benson played by Kyle Gallner) murders everyone else at the fast food joint but spares him. Why? So they can drive around the same burgh while Benson gets his kill on again and gives Randall a sort of screw loose tour of This Is Your Life. Talk about one stalled getaway with the bad guy not giving heed to leaving his permanent populace. Yeesh. 

Resembling a sort of non-art house version of 1973's Badlands, "Passenger" is well-acted and crisply edited, full of trenchancy and revelations and moments that are sudden bursts of barbarity (or attempted barbarity). In truth, Smith's film feels fresh and dirtily lowdown at the same time. It could but just doesn't pander to normal yarns about serial murderers and their spurs. Into the bargain, The Passenger is that rare flick in which side characters fade in and out but actually have a purpose to "Passenger's" nefarious narrative. Yup, I think it's one of the best offerings of '23 (so far). "Rider" manifest. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

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