“Pesi and Kelly’s performances are genuinely compelling, making it easy to become invested in the relationship between their characters.”
*NOTE: Contains plot spoilers for THE FARE (2018)*
“That’s really sad.”
“Love stories usually are.”
At first glance, The Fare (2018, dir. D.C. Hamilton) seems to be little more than your average run-of-the-mill sci-fi thriller. After all, the film’s initial premise is easy enough to follow: cab driver Harris (Gino Anthony Pesi) is sent to pick up his fare, Penny (Brinna Kelly, who also wrote the screenplay) and drive her out to the middle of nowhere where she vanishes into the dead of night. Then, Harris resets his meter and the whole sequence of events plays out all over again, the two of them stuck in what seems to be a seemingly endless time loop. The radio plays the same broadcast about extraterrestrials, they engage in the same small talk in his cab about a class on comic artist Jack Kirby that Harris once took, and Penny’s destination is always the same. And every time, she disappears not long after a storm rolls in.
While Harris sees Penny as just another passenger getting into his cab, Penny seems to know things about him that suggest somewhere along the line, the two of them have a shared history. It isn’t until Harris grabs Penny’s hand after a car crash and asks her if she’s okay that the neo-noir black and white tones which characterized the film up until now flicker, giving way to full colour. “I didn’t tell you my name,” Penny says, excitedly. “I didn’t tell you my name this time.” Harris realizes with astonishment that she’s right. Somehow, he knows her.
It’s this precise moment that marks a turning point not only in their relationship, but in the story itself. The next time Harris’s now-predictable cab journey takes him to pick up Penny, he recalls all his previous rides with her, right down to the exact words of their conversation. As the picture bursts into full colour, they’re relieved that just because the ride itself is the same, their interactions don’t have to be. Now that Harris remembers Penny, they can skip the awkward introductions and small talk that have defined their previous cab journeys— which, according to Penny, there’s been at least a hundred of.
This is when The Fare noticeably undergoes a tonal shift, feeling more like a romantic comedy that happens to include elements of the supernatural than the tense thriller it seemed from the outset. Suddenly, Harris’s questions about the time loop take a back seat to his desire to form an emotional connection with Penny. Through intercut scenes of the two of them enjoying each other’s company and getting to know each other through anecdotes and silly icebreakers, they’re able to do just that. Beneath the surface though, something still feels amiss. Questions linger unanswered within the confines of the cab as the relationship between Harris and Penny develops further, causing the audience— and Harris— to wonder just how deep their connection runs. And when the film finally illuminates the mysterious circumstance that has been haunting it throughout, the answers revealed are anything but predictable.
What sets The Fare apart from other films of the genre is the unforeseen turn it ends up taking, despite the foreshadowing being present all along. There’s a flashback in which Penny tells Harris a story about two lovers who were forced apart when the Milky Way was created as a barrier between them, but once a year, “they would get to spend one moment together”.
“That’s really sad,” Harris says in response. “Love stories usually are,” Penny counters, seemingly unaffected by the tragedy she tells of.
Ironically enough, it turns out that Harris and Penny themselves happen to be in a situation not unlike the fictitious lovers in her story. This is far from coincidental though, since it soon becomes apparent that Penny knows a lot more about the situation than she’s letting on— and she isn’t exactly who she claims to be. The mysterious Dispatcher (Jason Stuart) who’s been sending Harris out on his errands reveals himself as the literal personification of death, otherwise known as Hades— and tells Harris that Penny is his wife, making her none other than Persephone, mythological goddess of spring.
As for Harris, he’s the “ferryman”, forever tasked with shuttling passengers to their destination in a never-ending purgatory. And, once a year like clockwork, Harris is sent to pick up his former flame, and the two of them are given the chance to share a brief cab ride before she must return to the underworld. Now aware of the entire truth, Harris approaches his ride with Penny in a new light, each of them fully knowing the other for the first time. It’s a beautiful yet bittersweet moment, as Penny is no longer simply a stranger Harris is meant to pick up. Instead she’s the love of his life, who he knows he only has a small window of time with before having to reset the meter and, in doing so, watching her disappear from the earth for another year.
By taking its central premise out of the realm of pure sci-fi and infusing it with a dose of Greek mythology, The Fare skillfully manages to avoid the trappings of monotony, instead driving the plot in a surprising direction, giving it new depth. As simplistic as the film itself may be from a structural standpoint, Pesi and Kelly’s performances are genuinely compelling, making it easy to become invested in the relationship between their characters. Full of twists, turns, and lighthearted humour, The Fare is a mythos-steeped love story that’s ultimately worth the trip, proving that sometimes the journeys we’re destined to take together are more significant than the destination itself.
Dir: D.C. Hamilton
Prod: 501 Pictures
Cast: Gino Anthony Pesi, Brinna Kelly, Jason Stuart
Release: 19 November 2019
Where available to watch: VOD/Blu-Ray