The joy of any classic Twilight Zone episode lies in how monumental its signature twist often is.
Not only does the episode’s main character transform, but the entire world around them usually shifts in significant ways. Conveniently, these world-changing events are often so massive they can be easily shot on a low budget: a world that suddenly has no people, for example, or one infected with unseen evil.
The Fare, a zero-budget movie from 2019, is similar to a great Twilight Zone episode in how it gleefully twists its narrative and toys with its characters. Here’s why you should check it out now that it’s streaming for free online.
Directed by D.C Hamilton and written by Brinna Kelly, who also co-stars, The Fare was shot in just six days. With practically no money and even less time, Hamilton said in a 2019 interview with the site Nightmarish Conjurings that the shoot “featured a million things that could have cut the movie down at the knees.”
The Fare does, however, go easy on its production crew. The film is set at night and centers on two people — Harris (Gino Anthony Pesi) and Penny (Brinna Kelly) — who spend almost the entire runtime inside a taxi cab in the middle of the desert.
But even then, Hamilton says, there were questions to answer about how the team could film that small-scale setting “with no money for a process trailer or the ability to permit roads and shut them down,” adding:
“There was the reality that to shoot the exteriors of the taxi and to build the world of the film, we needed a specific look and would have to come up with a solution that thought outside the box, because to light up a large chunk of land and shoot all night was also fiscally impractical.”
All of these practical filmmaking matters give The Fare a fly-by-night feeling in the best sense, with the movie working overtime not to waste a single moment.
All of that effort leads up to a cleverly cyclical story: cab driver Harris up to Penny in the middle of nowhere, leading to the two of them sharing a cab again, and again, and again.
Pesi, previously a romantic interest to Jennifer Lopez on mostly forgotten cop procedural Shades of Blue, has great leading-man energy. His smile is energetic and his laugh is contagious, as if he can’t believe what is happening at any given moment. This feeling gives way to a sense of curiosity about the world, and Harris is a classic cabbie-as-therapist, eager to hear about the plight of his fares. (Especially when they’re cute and seemingly game to flirt, as is the case with Penny.)
Time-loop movies are great for demonstrating patterns in the behaviors of their characters and seeing how these can shift and change with repetition. Movies like Happy Death Day, Palm Springs, and Groundhog Day find patterns in their characters then observe their growth (or lack thereof) in the face of sudden eternity. Often, they embark on quests to free themselves from their newfound time-prisons.
As the viewer becomes aware of the time-loop within The Fare while watching Harris and Penny repeat their voyage, certain details start to pop up. There are repeated references to comics legend Jack Kirby, and Harris can’t stop listening to a radio show about human beings travelling back in time to create other human beings.
Some time loop movies treat their settings like sandboxes, filled with things that can break and come back together again during the next loop. But given its low budget, that’s not the case in The Fare. A few things change between loops, but the movie relies more on conversation and chemistry between its leads to keep things interesting.
The film takes a few minutes to settle in, but this narrative gambit works. Right from its black-and-white start, there’s something odd about the conversations occurring in The Fare. The banter between Harris and Penny as they get to know each other feels warm but slightly forced. Then, the movie makes its first big revelation: Penny has a crystal-clear memory of all these conversations, while Harris can’t remember a thing.
The Fare saves its big, world-changing twist for its third act, but the film doesn’t end there. Instead, it plays around in its changed world, showing how its characters have entirely transformed in some ways and stayed the same in others. Although there’s no earnest way to predict the twist, Harris and Penny start to grow once it lands.
When asked in an interview what he would want viewers to take from The Fare, Hamilton said simply “hope,” then added the following:
“There’s so much nastiness and cynicism out there. But our movie, while mysterious and playful in that Twilight Zone kind of way, still ultimately wears its heart on its sleeve.”
While horrible things happen to Harris and Penny in The Fare, their love is, quite literally, star-crossed. And there’s a feeling that lingers while watching that, if this movie could get made in the first place, anything is possible.
The Fare is now streaming on Amazon Prime.