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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Fender Bender  (2016)
2½ Stars
Directed by Mark Pavia.
Cast: Makenzie Vega, Bill Sage, Dre Davis, Kelsey Leos Montoya, Cassidy Freeman, Harrison Sim, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, Steven Michael Quezada; voice of Hilary Guler.
2016 – 91 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for strong bloody violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, October 3, 2016.
"Fender Bender" has a plot hook so crafty yet logical it comes as a surprise it hasn't been done before. A driver (Bill Sage) prowls the streets, targeting his victims by tapping his car into theirs, exchanging information, and then stalking them later at their homes. Because the most self-respecting slashers have a signature costume, this one is clad from head to toe in leather garb. Written and directed by Mark Pavia (his first feature since 1997's "The Night Flier"), "Fender Bender" confidently takes the wheel without feeling the need to reinvent it. What it lacks in imagination beyond its initial concept, it makes up for in tightly wound tension.

The psycho's latest doomed mark is Hilary Diaz (Makenzie Vega), a novice 17-year-old driver whose day goes from bad to worse when she is involved in a fender bender minutes after discovering her boyfriend, Andy (Harrison Sim), has been cheating on her. Disappointed that their daughter took their car without permission, her parents decide to go on their weekend trip without her. Home alone as a storm brews outside and a serial killer comes calling, Hilary is soon thrust into a fight for survival.

"Fender Bender" kicks off with a jolting prologue, as Jennifer (Cassidy Freeman) returns home following an accident and soon finds her relaxing bubble bath interrupted by a terrifying intruder. As the narrative switches to protagonist Hilary, the film proves gripping if a little frustrating. There are multiple instances when any sensible person would call 911—the first would be when she finds photos on her cell taken of her moments before while she was in the shower—yet Hilary reasons she has "caused enough trouble" for everyone. It is a leap in plausibility, to be sure, one that may have been solved were the story set in a pre-cellular era. If Hilary isn't the brightest bulb in the box, she at least fights back when the going gets rough. Makenzie Vega (2004's "Saw") is amiable and sympathetic in the lead role, a fitting match opposite the steady, unforced creepiness of Bill Sage's (2009's "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire") methodically sinister driver. What "Fender Bender" gets most right is the sheer claustrophobia crafted from the situation, and the "what-if?" factor that makes its premise so instantly identifiable. Scary but true, this could happen to anyone.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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