“There are no deadlines that never come due, no debts ever paid.”
This is the mantra exhibited on a small sign in the back of the taxi driver’s car in Night Fare. This silent, tattooed hulk of a driver cruises the Parisian streets at night like some wandering samurai on a mission. One night he picks up old friends Chris (Jonathan Howard) and Luc (Jonathan Demurger), a small time drug pusher who decides to skip out on the fare. The driver doesn’t let them off so easy, stalking the friends in his muscle car taxi of death through the vacant streets.
Man, this premise sounds ripe for excitement. It’s like Duel only this time Jason Voorhees is driving the truck. Shortly into the film, writer/director Julien Seri starts toying with our expectations and it’s gradually revealed that the Driver (Jess Liaudin) might not be the villain we thought he was. He saves a dog from its abusive owner and spares the life of an honest cop. Sounds like a nice enough guy, right? Then why is he relentlessly hunting Chris and Luc down? What demons are they hiding?
This secret is also at the heart of why Chris vanished for two years, leaving behind his girlfriend Ludivine (Fanny Valette), who has since started shacking up with Luc. Since resurfacing, there’s nothing but tension in this love triangle and as Chris and Luc run from their disturbing secret, the Driver is right at their heels. This romantic turmoil subplot never has the emotional impact it should though and feels like an afterthought in many scenes.
All of the ingredients are there for one badass genre pulp and a dramatic look at past sin and retribution. The first two/thirds of the film are wicked entertaining and a lot of fun. There’s a brutal one-take brawl between Chris and Luc that looks so goddamn real it hurts. The pulsing synth score from Alex Cortés adds a sense of menace to the stalking scenes and cinematographer Jacques Ballard’s neon/darkness contrast has a slick, Michael Mann feel to it. A very nice touch is the ticking of the taxi’s meter used as a scene transition – a visual reminder of Chris and Luc’s rising debt.
The problem comes in the third act, when Night Fare begins to take itself painfully seriously and humorless. All the fun and excitement is drained out of the film as hefty moralization and a left-field mythological twist take center stage. This twist is certain to be a point of contention for audiences and for me it simply didn’t work. Up to this point the film is impressively conceived and razor sharp, but it just falls apart under the weight of its own moralistic ambitions. There’s a cool animation sequence alá Kill Bill, sure, but it can’t save Night Fare from completely coming undone at the end. It feels like a wasted opportunity. It had the chance to be an engaging, edgy genre film but instead wants to moralize and deliver an uninteresting samurai mythology. Night Fare isn’t strong enough to be either.
That being said, Night Fare won “Best Feature Film” at the Mile High Horror Film Festival, so what do I know.