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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Fender Bender  (2016)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
2.5 Stars
(Release Date: October 4, 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.

Read Dustin's Theatrical Review

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Fender Bender" is a taut, no-frills horror-thriller, and its 1080p transfer follows suit. Detail and clarity are pleasing, with facial features, hairs and clothing revealing high-definition nuances and potency. Dimensionality is also solid, using Hilary's innocuous home as a suffocating death trap and the open roads as landscapes of vast depth. Black levels and shadows are deep with minor to no detectable crush. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is savvily delivered, most notably in regard to a suspense-laden music score that uses the back channels to immersive effect. Dialogue is additionally well-modulated within the mix. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also included.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with writer-director Mark Pavia and moderator Rob Galluzzo
  • Audio Commentary with producers Gus Krieger, Joshua Bunting and Carl Lewis
  • "Retro VHS" Cut of the Film (1:31:59, SD) - Audio buzzing and pops, image tracking, and an overall fuzzy, washed-out appearance highlight this amazingly clever, exceptionally pulled-off VHS version of the feature film
  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (9:16, HD)
  • "Slashback" Vintage Trailer Reel (38:39, HD)
  • Original Trailer & TV Spot (2:07, HD)
Bottom Line
Scream Factory's first original film produced in-house, "Fender Bender" is a throwback slasher that feels as if it could have been just as easily made in 1981 or 2001 (think "Final Exam" and "When a Stranger Calls" meets "Joyride"). While a suspension of disbelief is required to get past the heroine's failure to call for help, writer-director Mark Pavia makes up for it via confident handling of his characters and the encroaching dread of their predicament. The premise all by itself is a humdinger, and the film sticks with the viewer long after it's over. Equipped with strong picture and audio, and a slew of terrific (and, in the case of the "Retro VHS" cut, creative) special features, "Fender Bender" earns an affectionate recommendation on Blu-ray.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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