Chugging along at a steady pace, this sharply executed thriller set aboard a busy British commuter train late at night during the Christmas holiday week takes us the long way around on its path to excitement.
Familiar with its terrain, Last Passenger pays homage to its Hitchcockian roots both with regard to its romantically old-fashioned set piece as well as its emphasis on Strangers on a Train style character-driven dramatic tension.
Bold in its restraint, rather than solely relying on the external dangers apparent within the machinations of the diesel engine beast, Passenger’s decision to opt for the scenic route ensures that we're fully invested in the handful of characters left on board once the train begins to empty out.
Focusing primarily on Dougray Scott’s widowed emergency room doctor and his young son who strike up a cordial but gradually flirtatious conversation with a blonde-haired beauty across the aisle, Passenger moves from meet-cute to the territory of mystery once the trio realize that not only has the train ceased making scheduled stops but all the employees have vanished as well.
Trying to keep a cool head, Scott initially approaches the issue like a puzzle to solve – similar to the way his son likes to rave about his skills as a diagnostician who can say what's wrong with the person just by looking at them.
However, it's only after he stumbles on a scene a foul play that he and a formerly dubious by-the-book businessman he’d butted heads with realize that they're among only six riders aboard on the now runaway train who’ve been left to fend for themselves.
Unable to reason with the unseen driver who's cut the emergency brakes and taken control of the train — barreling along the rails towards the end of the line at nearly a hundred miles an hour – the six strangers struggle to figure out how to get the cars to stop.
Utilizing any objects at their disposal from the guard's keys and the train's operating manual to alcohol from the bar and their own cell phones, the riders rely on real-world theory as well as any skills or knowledge they've picked up along the way to take control away from the unknown man at the front.
Employing red herrings and misdirection from start to finish, what sets Passenger apart from other works of this type (aside from its generically ill-fitting title) is that it refuses to go along with the typical construct of a hero and a villain that must be unmasked by the ending.
Missing in the film are the clichéd "talking killer" exposition-filled speeches that explain the why and how (beyond whom and what) that have been designed by the screenwriter to wrap everything up into a neat little bow.
Instead we're presented with the type of thriller that we normally see the aftermath of in the evening news wherein we can't understand why things went so wrong except for the chilling realization that there's no possible explanation that would ever make sense.
Yes, there are a few contrivances and gaps in logic such as the fact that one rider conveniently works on the London Underground and another knows way too much about train crashes. However, we’re willing to overlook both of these partly because the velocity of the film doesn’t leave us with that much time upon which to dwell before shifting our attention towards a thrilling new diversion, in an obvious takeaway from Jan de Bont’s Speed.
And likewise while some of the finger pointing and unrealistic fights between the frazzled commuters makes you think that — perhaps in a different draft of the screenplay— the first time feature filmmaker and writer/director Omid Nooshin did take his characters down a much more traditional and familiar path of good and evil, all tonal inconsistencies aside, Passenger holds steady.
For despite the fact that he was using a well-traveled map of suspenseful transportation thrillers to guide his impressive cinematic debut journey, by confidently veering down a different direction at full speed, Nooshin charted a new course that's sure to garner even greater momentum now that it's arrived on both disc and Netflix at last.
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