Wrecker, the new killer-behind-the-wheel thriller from director Michael Bafaro (along with co-writer Evan Taylor) currently out on VOD and part of the 8 Films to Die For 2015 collection, draws inspiration from the classic Stephen Spielberg tele-film Duel. On a long, lonely stretch of mountain road called “The Devil’s Pass” a pair of traveling girlfriends drive into the cross-hairs of a relentless, psychotic killer. Bafaro and Taylor replace Dennis Weaver with Anna Hutchinson and Andrea Whitburn and the tanker truck with a smaller, but no less fierce, souped-up, diesel-powered wrecker. The chase is on, machine versus machine. Despite the film feeling very much a blatant rip-off of Duel (1971), Wrecker manages to entertain and keep things lively and interesting for its brief 83 minute duration. Much of that has to do with Hutchinson and Whitburn making the most of their thin characters and the solid direction from Bafaro who effectively makes the wrecker imposing and dangerous. Unfortunely, Wrecker is hard pressed to leave much of a lasting impression.
Emily and Leslie, making their way across Southern California toward Palm Springs, take a detour on a short cut known as “The Devil’s Pass.” Stuck on a two-lane road, the girls encounter a wrecker truck who’s driver seemingly develops an obsession with the young travelers chasing them down, intimidating them and setting them up for a kill. The trip becomes a harrowing game of cat and mouse as Emily and Leslie fight to survive the night.
Anna Hutchinson and Andrea Whitburn make for an attractive and captivating pair, convincingly portraying Emily and Leslie, close friends on a road trip. For those familiar with Duel, they do unfortunately suffer by comparison to Denis Weaver in his encounter with Wrecker’s distant cousin some forty four years ago. The film benefits from having two protagonists, allowing the interaction between the girls to amplify the action, tension and paranoia. What is surprising is that the resulting dialog between the two ends up more exposition and hysterics instead of introspection into their mindset. Wrecker never strives to dive too deep into the mental or emotional side-effects of the traumatic events, relying on modern – and stereotypical – action definitions of damsels-in-distress. Hutchinson and Whitburn make the most of their time on screen, improving greatly when they encounter other travelers on the road. Unfortunately, once the two become separated, the script fails to provide Hutchinson with enough substance allowing her character to slide into dangerous inept, near-silly, territory.
The wrecker itself makes for a solid – and realistic – substitute for a tanker truck. Ironically, given the Stephen Spielberg influence from Duel, the wrecker feels more like the great white from Jaws than the tanker did, providing the machine with fierce mobility and devilish speed. Although, admittedly, the larger frame of a tanker has a more imposing appearance and unshakable sense of being totally unstoppable. What is sadly missing, however, is a signature sound design for the metal beast. Duel had the dinosaur-like roar. The Car (1977) had that terrific pounding horn. Wrecker needs a similar supernatural audible cue to give it more personality.
Director Michael Bafaro makes an impressive turn with Wrecker, maintaining momentum and keeping things kinetic; however, the action lacks the intensity Spielberg gave Duel or the purpose Richard C. Sarafian gave Vanishing Point (1971) or the urgency John Hough have Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974). Bafaro circles around the cat and mouse chase sequences with a cinematic eye aided by solid editing, giving the film a sense of speed, location and isolation. He provides just enough glimpse of the man – or beast – behind the wheel: well timed cuts in and out of the drivers exiting and entering the wrecker’s cab or a quick shot of the wrecker’s dashboard along with suspicious decorations. A little more of that would go a long way.
Wrecker speeds along with solid direction, a suitable and entertaining cast and a well-designed antagonistic instrument of road rage. Michael Bafaro is confident behind the camera, displaying an eye for frame, speed and character. His shots make the most of the simple script with a lean more toward the action than the psychological or the supernatural. Anna Hutchinson and Andrea Whitburn make for a delightful set of protagonists facing a threat not-too-far removed from reality. The wrecker itself is imposing and forceful, relying more on being grounded in the known than the subtle hints of something more unknown. The isolated locations help set the fears of being perused where help is no where near and options are few and far between. Wrecker however suffers from comparison to other well-known similar films with Duel being an obvious and heavy-handed inspiration – so much so, the film appears either a remake or a rip-off of that film. Sadly, the film’s lack of reach past that inspiration prevents it from being highly recommended, the film has its inspiration but Wrecker itself is far from inspired.
Wrecker (2.3 / 5)