How ‘The Passenger’ Shakes Up Staid Horror Formula

Spanish shocker offers one memorable antihero ... but too few frights

Horror fans know they shouldn’t get too attached to any one character … unless it’s that Final Girl.

The genre wipes out much of the cast before the end credits, and audiences wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s a treat, then, for a character to not only stick around but make his or her presence felt. Meet Blasco, the chatty driver at the heart of “The Passenger.” Actor Ramiro Blas elevates the middling material in this Spanish import, embodying an anti-hero we’ll cheer without reservation.

Even if he’s as inappropriate as Archie Bunker at times.

The Passenger Official Trailer | Horror, Zombie | World Premiere Sitges

Blas’s Blasco is a second-rate driver hauling three women to their destination. He’s chatty to a fault, even though his passengers would rather him shut his yap. He admits he’s a chauvinist, and his colorful tales could probably use a fact check.

The real kind, not the sort that plagues modern journalism.

The trio includes a sickly woman with an unbowed spirit and a mother and daughter hauling plenty of personal baggage. Blasco inexplicably bonds with young Marta (Paula Gallego), a sullen teen who finds his outdated ways oddly comforting.

Their ride gets bumpier when Blasco’s ramshackle van runs over a woman late at night. The alleged victim doesn’t stay down for long, though. The body may not be of this earth, but it’s intent on making the main characters’ miserable.

The small cast allows us to get to know the key characters, something atypical in the genre. Heck, even the beat-up van Blasco drives, which he lovingly calls Nessa, has more personality than most horror movie types.

The film’s sprightly, unconventional score adds a bounce to the proceedings, at least until the horror elements invade the screen.

“The Passenger” is billed as a horror comedy, but the latter doesn’t get enough attention. Sure, Blasco is a hoot, but the chuckles take a back seat to the genre trappings.

Only the creature at the heart of the film, with a nod to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” is far from fascinating. Its back story is fuzzy, but that’s hardly a sin. It doesn’t pose a consistent threat to our heroes, and the film’s slacker approach to tension isn’t justified.

It’s great to hear Marta and Blasco bicker, sometimes like family members even though they’ve just met, but it’s still a horror film. Where’s the sense that at any moment doom could come down upon them?

“The Passenger” should deliver a rollicking third act given the setup, but we’re treated to more colorful exchanges than genuine scares.

We’ve seen many of the elements trotted out in “The Passenger” before, and the practical F/X show the limitations of eschewing CGI wonders.

The crusty Blasco, though, is a one-of-a-kind soul who deserves a better movie.

HiT or Miss: “The Passenger” can be as bland as its title, but one lively performance gives the film its sense of purpose.

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