Driving in desert well beyond the city limits during a storm at night, cab driver Harris (Gino Anthony Pesi) half-listens to different talk radio chatter about time-leaping aliens, the male urge to conquer, and the female desire for intimacy, before taking a sip from his water flask and picking up his fare right out in the middle of nowhere. This is Penny ‘as in the coin’ (Brinna Kelly), shivering with cold and headed for another equally remote destination. On the way, the two strike up a lively, bantering conversation, creating their own warmth to accompany the vehicle’s overworking heater – and then, suddenly, Penny vanishes. Confused, but instructed by his dispatcher (voiced by Jason Stewart) to turn around and go collect his next fare, Harris resets the metre, half-listens to the same old talk radio chatter, and picks up Penny right out in the middle of nowhere…
The pitch for D.C. Hamilton’s The Fare is simple – it’s Groundhog Day in a taxi – but it evolves into something different. At first these eight-minute journeys, always starting with the pick-up of Penny and always ending with her sudden disappearance, are more obviously repetitions for us than they are for Harris, who does not remember Penny from one trip to the next. Once, however, his hand has accidentally touched hers, his memories – at least of the cab journeys – rush back, and the mannered monochrome of the film’s beginning gives way to a rush of warmer – if still stylised – colour. Now Penny travels in the front seat with Harris rather than the back, as a stranger whom, trip after trip, he is getting to know – and like – rather well. As their initial smalltalk turns to deeper, more serious exchanges, Harris starts wondering whether maybe the infernal loop in which they have become trapped together isn’t so bad after all.
Rooted in seemingly inescapable iterations of a scenario, the ‘groundhog day’ plot imbues the most humdrum, familiar aspects of everyday life with a kind of existential panic, and so has proven irresistible to the sci-fi and horror genres, with films like Dario Piana’s The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007), Christopher Smith’s Triangle (2009), Vincenzo Natali’s Haunter (2013), Madellaine Paxson’s Blood Punch (2015), Park Hong-min’s Alone (Hon-ja, 2015), Isti Madarász’s Loop (2016), Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s diptych of Resolution (2012) and The Endless (2017), Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day and its sequel Happy Death Day 2U (2019) and the Netflix series Russian Doll (2019) all trapping their characters in dread-infused cycles. Given how often this trope has now been used, the challenge for The Fare is to try to distinguish itself from fellow-travelling films by liberating itself from this plot type’s established conventions, much as its characters are trying to break their own repetitive cycle.
Two things in the end make The Fare stand out from its rivals. Firstly there is its unusual status as a romance, whose star-cross’d lovers, though spending something like an eternity together, are bound always to be the driver and passenger on the briefest of journeys. The performances – in what is mostly a two-hander – are nuanced and charming, aided by a witty and resonant screenplay by Kelly herself. Secondly, it finds an ingenious way of both resolving and literalising the mystery of these lovers’ eternally transitory relationship: instead of merely borrowing from Groundhog Day as so many other films have done, it renews this kind of cyclical story type by taking it back much further to its ancient source. For what is going on here turns out, once the penny has dropped, to be a timeless myth, cleverly updated for a new filmic vehicle, and told on – rather than in – metre.
© Anton Bitel