The Passenger 2023 film poster

The Passenger Film Review

Why I took it off the list:

I’d been hearing good things about this film but saw that it wasn’t really breaking much into the public consciousness, so decided to check it out.

I was intrigued by the fact it’s produced by Blumhouse, who released a similarly low-budget but incredibly effective thriller almost exactly a year ago with Soft & Quiet (2022).

Plus, I always find lead actor Kyle Gallner (Scream, Smile) appealing and think that director Carter Smith’s jungle-set horror flick The Ruins (2008) is vastly underrated.

So, let’s dig in!

Review of The Passenger (2023)

Not to be confused with Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson, this The Passenger is also a road movie of sorts, but the scope is infinitely smaller. Although the 2 main characters have bigger ambitions, they never actually manage to make it out of the small town they are seemingly doomed to be stuck in.

We’re first introduced to lead character Randy in a disturbing opening scene that’s presented as a nightmare. We get an idea that, as a child, he witnessed a traumatic and bloody incident involving his teacher. The details aren’t entirely spelled out, but it’s clear that when we next see him he’s still haunted by the event.

In the present (which looks like it could be the 80s or 90s if it weren’t for the presence of cellphones), Randy (Johnny Berchtold) is a timid, passive teen stuck working a dead-end job at a fast food joint. He’s mercilessly taunted and bullied by one of the other employees. That is, until another unassuming worker, Benson (Gallner) steps in to defend him.

But instead of simply giving the offender a talking-to, Benson seemingly snaps and takes out the bully, as well as everybody else in the place, in a bloody rampage. He then forces a shell-shocked Randy to accompany him as he makes his getaway.

Gallner Makes for a Terrifying, Complicated Villain

This is where things get surprising. Instead of a bombastic story of outlaws on the lam, the unhinged Benson takes Randy on a tour of past relationships he has regrets about to get him to ‘man up’ a little. These include ex-girlfriend Lisa (Lupe Leon) and the aforementioned teacher (Gilmore Girls‘ Lisa Weil).

Benson seems hell-bent on this mission in an attempt to ‘help’ Randy, despite the fact he’s just committed a massacre, and this makes him quite a terrifying and complicated villain. Much of the considerable tension comes from the fact that Benson can flip on a dime from cool and collected to angry and unhinged.

As a result, you genuinely worry about what could happen to Randy and the other people this unpredictable figure comes into contact with.

While Berchtold and Weil make strong impressions as more sensitive, fragile characters, the film undoubtedly belongs to Gallner, who is both frightening and charming in equal measure. He’s particularly effective in the scenes where he has to ‘act nice’ in front of onlookers. But we already know he can, and will, erupt into violence at any moment.

Final Score: 8/10

The Passenger (2023): Worth Watching?

Yes, although ultimately a more introspective drama than the tense thriller it initially sets itself up to be (though it certainly is that at moments), The Passenger is a suspenseful, well-acted little film that’s a great showcase for Kyle Gallner in particular.

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