“Oh hey, it’s Duel.” It will be impossible to watch Wrecker, the new thriller from Michael Bafaro, and draw immediate comparisons to Steven Speilberg’s 1971 film. IMDB goes as far as to list Wrecker as a remake of that film, but I’m not that’s the case. Like other car chase films such as Joyride or The Hitcher, Wrecker draws heavy inspiration from Speilberg’s film.
Best friends Emily and Lesley (Anna Hutchinson and Andrea Whitburn respectively) make their way down to Southern California from Seatle via the two lane, scenic highways of Northern Cal. Anticipating a weekend of partying hard with friends, and sitting behind the wheel of a muscled up cherry red Mustang, Emily pushes the car to a cruising speed of over 120 miles an hour. The trip is going swimmingly for the young women until they reach a stretch of road named “Devil’s Pass” and find themselves slowed down by a diesel sputtering, hulking behemoth of a tow truck that refuses to give the girls passage. A minor incident of road rage turns into a cat and mouse game where the unseen trucker terrorizes the women at all turns, toying with them and tailing them at dangerous speeds.
There are more than a few problems with Wrecker. Bafaro asks his audience to swallow a lot, not the least of which is the idea that an oversized warhorse of a truck could not only keep speed with a souped up muscle car, but also that it could do so while navigating the hairpin turns and inclines of the two lane blacktop. Perhaps that’s why so much of the chase scenes feel anticlimactic. While the speedometer shows the needle pushing into the red, the action on screen fails to match the fantasy. Instead, too much of the high stakes chases look like leisurely strolls through some of the more beautiful stretches of the country. These moments lack desperation and as such, they find themselves devoid of drama or tension. The brief respites out side the vehicle don’t fare much better as a road stop diner scene where the girls confront a man they believe to be their pursuer comes off more comedic than I’m sure Bafaro intended. Wrecker also lacks escalation. It feels like you could take any two moments of the film and swap them out for one another and you would never notice the difference. Wrecker never seems to be building towards anything.
Hutchinson and Whitburn are both fine in their roles and come off as likable protagonists. When paired together the duo play well off one another, and at the very least, their reactions to being chased and their interactions with one another give the audience something to latch onto. That’s why Bafaro’s decision to drop one of the two women out of the film, off screen no less, at the midway point is a head scratcher. It leaves the remaining actress to carry the rest of the film with a limited arsenal of facial expressions and monologues with a story that’s too thin to do her any favors.
At 83 minutes, Wrecker doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it fails to offer anything new to the cannon of cat and mouse car chase films. It looks pretty as hell. Still, with the pacing of the film lacking, Wrecker may have been better presented as a travel diary instead of attempting to pass as a thriller.