Seven years and 66 installments.
If you had asked me all those years, and all those articles ago if Rob’s Car Movie Review would prove to be such a popular and long-running column, I’d have most assuredly replied, “not a chance!”
So, it is with great humility and many thanks to you readers that I find myself in 2023, still searching for, watching, and discussing the cinematic and automotive facets of the car movies I find.
While it’s true that the bulk of the films we’ve looked at together have come from decades past, every few months or so, I find a brand-new release that extends the lineage of the car movie genre.
Such is the case this month, as a recent hour spent surfing a streaming site yielded what looks to me to be a fairly interesting, new car flick in the vein of classics such as The Hitcher.
The movie is 2023’s The Fearway, and it’s the 67th subject of Rob’s Car Movie Review!
A supernatural horror road movie, The Fearway was made in 2022, and was released on digital streaming platforms and video-on-demand in February of 2023. A joint production of Cupsogue Pictures, Dystopian Films, FilmCore, Finch Fortress Films, Nine10 Productions, Slated, Sucheta DreamWorks Productions, The Group Entertainment and Viceroy Films, international distribution of the movie was handled by Black Mandala.
Helming the picture was relatively unknown director, Robert Gajic, who worked with a script penned by an unseasoned writer, Noah Bessey. The cast is small and equally non-prolific, and features Shannon Dalonzo, Justin Gordon, Simon Phillips, Jessica Gray, John D. Hickman, and Briahn Auguillard.
The story focusses on a young couple, Sarah (Dalonzo) and Michael (Gordon) as they traverse Route 66 through the California desert, on their way to visit Sarah’s ailing father. The two intend to marry soon, and between that and Sarah’s father’s condition, there is ample stress upon both of them.
At one point on their journey, they are harassed by an unseen driver in a sinister, black muscle car who alternately rides their bumper, weaves, and attempts to force the couple into having an accident.
They quickly pull off at a roadside restaurant/motel to evade their pursuer, and indeed, the specter car keeps going and disappears down the road. Freaked out by the situation, they go inside to seek refuge in the restaurant.
Inside, they encounter the establishment’s manager (Phillips), short order cook (Hickman), waitress (Gray), and a more than slightly deranged-looking female patron. All are acting a bit off, so Sarah and Michael decide to take their meal to go and hit the road again.
Back on the highway though, they find themselves once again being terrorized by the black car. Sarah pulls over as does their pursuer. She gets out and approaches the other car, only to discover an insidious, snarling, otherworldly personage behind the wheel. Terrified, Sarah and Michael tear off, only to find themselves once again approaching the diner, despite the fact they have left it miles behind.
Slowly it begins to dawn on Sarah and Michael that they have slipped the bounds of normal reality, and have somehow entered a parallel dimension where time and space have different laws and parameters. To make matters worse, it becomes clear that the folks at the diner have been aware of Sarah and Michael’s predicament from the get-go, and that they may be, by some means, controlling the situation.
What is this place? What are the rules that govern it? Who is the demon on the highway, and what does he want from them? How did they get here and how can they get back to normality? All these questions hang before Sarah and Michael, with seemingly no answers available to them.
The Fearway is an unusual film by contemporary standards. While its marketing, in the form of trailers and promotional posters, make it appear to be yet another entry in the current wave of low-budget, buckets-of-blood, horror movies, it is actually an entirely different bird.
Drawing more from the likes of classic 1960s episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits than any modern-day Conjuring or Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot, the movie heralds back to an era of supernatural storytelling where the psychological implications impart the scares, as opposed to gratuitous mangling and mayhem.
Some modern viewers may find this approach as outdated or lacking teeth, but as a fan of implied terror, as opposed to graphic depictions of it, I find it to be a refreshing retro slant.
Now don’t get me wrong, The Fearway is not high art, nor is it free from flaws to pick on, but it does buck current trends enough to feel like something different.
As for said flaws, they include some stilted performances, some seriously creaky dialogue here and there, as well as some nebulous plot elements that are introduced and then seemingly forgotten (just who was that odd female patron and what role did she play in all of this?) The film’s micro-budget is also abundantly apparent.
Having said that, the filmmakers clearly worked with what they had, putting whatever meager resources were afforded to them up on the screen, in a way that reminded me of the best of film school production that I saw during my time studying moviemaking at NYU. The milieu is contained to the highway and the restaurant, avoiding the cost associated with a variety of locations, and what does appear on screen is beautifully photographed with a fine choice of lenses, camera movement, and post-production image manipulation. The other technical aspects, such as the editing, sound, and music are also well above competent.
Which brings us to why you’re really here – the cars.
There are only two in the film: Sarah and Michael’s super-pedestrian Kia subcompact crossover SUV, and the demon’s car. Thankfully, the latter is a good one.
In what is obviously a nod to that quintessential, desert road film of decades past, Vanishing Point, the filmmakers chose to afford the demon today’s prime retro-themed muscle car, the Dodge Challenger. Although completely murdered-out from paint to wheels as opposed to the former film’s bright white hero car, The Fearway’s Challenger, with its throwback body lines, works well with the evocative time-shifting theme of the movie.
The late model Challenger piloted by the demon is of the R/T variety, as evidenced by its demure front fascia and twin-scoop hood, as opposed to the more flamboyant body histrionics of the upscale, supercharged SRT Hellcat models. Nonetheless, the current R/T is no slouch in the muscle department, packing either a 375 horsepower, 5.7 Hemi V8, or in the case of the R/T Scat Pack, an even more raucous 485 pony, 392 cubic-inch Hemi.
While the movie’s Challenger has been de-badged, leaving us no true idea of what lurks under the hood, by the sound of its exhaust, it is most likely outfitted with the smaller of the two Hemis.
And it does indeed sound good in many instances where it is tearing down the desert highway, in pursuit of Sarah and Michael. There are a couple of sequences where the cars are traveling at a high rate of speed, but alas, the Challenger never performs a bold maneuver or smokey burnout. A shame if you ask me.
The Fearway ultimately fails in its main endeavor to provide maximum chills and thrills. While a technically well-crafted and certainly watchable movie, it lacks a bit of cohesiveness, and is possessed of too many uneven storytelling elements to pull off what it intends to be. As such, it merely occupies 80 minutes of your time, as opposed to enriching it.
In the end, I didn’t utterly dislike the film, I just didn’t get much from it. As such, I can only give The Fearway five-and-a-half out of ten pistons.