'Ride': Film Review | LAFF 2018

Dangerous passenger takes audiences on a scary ride.

This thriller about the perils of an Uber-type ride service features performances by three up-and-coming actors.

A neat, timely thriller, Ride — which had its world premiere at the LA Film Festival — has one of those premises that someone was bound to exploit. The story of an Uber-type ride that goes very wrong taps into fears that almost anyone must have harbored when they call one of the new ride-sharing services. Probably most people have wondered about the driver they call, but from the driver’s point of view, what about the possibility of encountering a passenger from hell? The film seems likely to attract an audience that will be tickled — and perhaps a bit unnerved — by the premise.

The pic is a kind of companion-piece to the recent thriller Searching, which used computer screens and cellphones to spin an ingenious mystery story. Innovative cinematography also figures in Ride, which demonstrates some of the same technical ingenuity. Almost the entire film is shot inside the car driven by James (Jessie T. Usher), and writer-director Jeremy Ungar told the LAFF audience that he devised a moving trailer to be able to keep his camera focused on the inhabitants of the car as it sails around the streets of Los Angeles over the course of a single night.

At the beginning of the evening, James gives a ride to Jessica (Bella Thorne), and over the course of their conversation, it seems that there is an attraction on both sides. He drops her at a nightclub, and she invites him to join her there later when he has completed his shift. But first he makes a stop to pick up Bruno (Will Brill), who claims that he has just experienced a traumatic breakup and is looking for a therapeutic drive around the city. Bruno interrogates James and learns of his acting aspirations, and he even persuades James to perform one of his favorite Shakespearean monologues, from Richard II.

Of course it doesn’t take long for the audience to realize that Bruno is not exactly what he seems. When we learn that his “name” is Bruno Anthony, film buffs will realize that is also the name of the psychopathic killer played by Robert Walker in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. That movie had a similar premise, opening in a train rather than a car, where a charismatic stranger inveigles his way into the life of a hapless innocent. There are warning signs when James hears a gunshot after Bruno makes a stop at MacArthur Park, but James ignores it. Then Bruno encourages James to go back to reconnect with Jessica at the nightclub, and soon the three of them are together in James’ car, when Bruno’s violent nature erupts more explicitly.

The film is shrewdly photographed by Rob C. Givens and tightly edited by Kayla M. Enter. Performances are skillful, though Thorne’s character is the least well-developed of the three. But there’s no doubt that Brill (best known for his roles on the TV series The OA and the Emmy-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) dominates the picture. Credit should also go to Ungar’s script; he has written dialogue for Brill that is witty enough to seduce James and Jess but contains just enough warning signs for those who might be wary of an overly friendly stranger. Brill gradually, believably morphs from seductive extrovert to psychopath; his performance helps to put Bruno up there with one of the best villains seen onscreen lately.

Even though the film runs under 90 minutes, it doesn’t quite sustain tension for its entire length. The ending is a bit disappointing, just as it was in Searching. But tapping cleverly into one of the newest perils in urban living, Ride will please most audiences looking for a Friday-night thrill ride.

Production company: Unified Pictures
Cast: Jessie T. Usher, Bella Thorne, Will Brill
Director-screenwriter: Jeremy Ungar
Producers: Keith Kjarval, Tyler Jackson, Sefton Fincham
Director of photography: Rob C. Givens
Production designer: Frances Lynn Hernandez
Costume designer: Charlese Antoinette Jones
Editor: Kayla M. Emter
Music: Paul Haslinger

76 minutes