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The writing team for 'The Passenger' develops rich characters in their contained thriller

June 8, 2022
6 min read time

The Passenger, or La Pasajera, is a Spanish-language horror flick based on a screenplay written by Luis Sánchez-Polack. The film was directed by Raúl Cerezo and Fernando González Gómez.

The movie is about a down-on-his-luck ex-rock and roller named Blasco who drives a van and picks up three women for a ride-share to a town several hours away. Their journey through the woods takes an interesting turn as they come across alien spaceship fragments, perhaps from a crash. The Passenger is one heck of a ride for audiences and offers screenwriting lessons to those paying attention.


Story devices & style

The screenplay uses a handful of writing devices very well. On the foreshadowing front, we have a prop shown to us early on that is used later— a perfect “set up and pay-off”. You can also learn about how to use exposition artfully within the genre. The Passenger does this by revealing mysteries slowly, like the scars that cover half of Marta’s face -- this incites intrigue to stay tuned and find out the why.

Blasco is also a possible “unreliable narrator” of things as we listen and unweave his yarns about his past. He starts off as a very irksome and detestable character that the women decide to rally against.

The film utilizes the van as more than just a location. It's where the backstories of all of the characters are revealed through dialogue. The van is also its own character, lovingly referred to as “Nessa” by Blasco, which is reminiscent of Stephen King's book and movie, Christine.

The team’s biggest challenge was— how to make the time inside the car not boring? They succeeded with close-ups and detailed dialogue, but they also divided the worlds of the cast up by the front of the van and the back of the van (that are sectioned off by a piece of plastic). 

Stylistically, The Passenger takes us back to the heyday of 1980s horror. Besides dramatic saturated coloring and telling close-ups as the characters talk about things that have happened to them, there’s a lot of goo and glop in this movie, too. It has grindhouse vibes and is a creature-feature-meets body-horror. And at times, it also feels like a radio play like Orson Welles’ "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast.


The collaborators

I have the pleasure of talking with the jovial Fernando González Gómez about this team’s film and how it came together. Gómez is calling in from Madrid where he’s in post-production on the team’s third genre feature together. He tells me that before this project, he and Cerezo worked together on a short film as well as their first full-length feature.  Gómez adds that the screenplay went through roughly 12-drafts over three years and that he and Cerezo direct as a team “at the service of the script, to tell the best story” on screen and make audiences feel like they are in the moment with the story.

For Gómez, the idea to become a filmmaker arrived after his mother took him to see Dances With Wolves when he was six years old and he somehow stayed still for those two-plus hours transfixed in the movie theater. He tells me later that when he saw the behind-the-scenes extras about that film, something clicked and what he was watching felt very familiar. This is what started him down this path and we all have Kevin Costner and team to thank for that.



The story for The Passenger came about five years ago with Cerezo and the writers driving from a film festival together using the European rideshare app called BlaBlaCar. The idea for their thriller was born when they picked up a seemingly sweet little old woman who became a monstrous racist after they picked up a Black man. That experience gave them the spark for this contained horror that takes place in a moving van as the main location.

Gómez likens starting this feature during the pandemic to “jumping into a swimming pool with no water”. The team certainly landed on their feet together— so much so that they will keep going. The creative and producing team already had chemistry with each other, so teaming up to produce The Passenger came together organically. Cerezo brought Gómez the script and asked him to co-direct and the rest is history. Gómez also says the pitch was actually easy because they had already worked with the producers before. He adds that the producers gravitated to Brasco's character because he was already polarizing and vivid on the page before he even hits the screen.


Recipe for success

There are several reasons the movie’s shoot went so well and why the movie turned out fantastically. The team focused heavily on the planning (even developing every camera position well ahead of time), they were able to work from home, and they already knew they worked well together. Gómez says the crew also learned how to conserve their energy while filming. He likens making a short film to running a 100m race and making a feature to running a marathon. You have to pace yourself.

The difference between Gómez and Cerezo’s first feature and their second, The Passenger, is the budget. The additional departments added— special effects and more art direction, and the production design which incorporates the alien/space invaders aspect of the movie. Gómez compares The Passenger to their next film by saying, “It’s like going from a Blumhouse horror comedy to an A24 family drama horror”.

The Passenger team collaborated to make sure all the characters connected to one another and had scars and vulnerabilities that would be visible for audiences to see them as real. The feedback so far? Well received! Viewers have told the team at screenings that they thought they would forever hate the Blasco character, but they wound up loving him in the end because Blasco redeems himself.  Another key dynamic is the mother-daughter relationship (Mariela and Marta). Their relationship starts off stormy and morphs into one of demonstrable devotion and sacrifice.

Gómez also states that the film has its own “cinematographic language” to tell its story. The shots were designed to make the audience feel the pain of the characters and be in the van with them, not just feel like they were watching people on a screen. So, get in the van, we’re going to run away from killer aliens together.

The Passenger opens theatrically on June 3rd at select theaters in New York City and Los Angeles and will be followed by a VOD release on June 28th.

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