Barely released in American theatres, this indie slasher is far from perfect but at leasts shows a knack for placing quirky characters in offbeat situations. Displaying a propensity for left-field plotting, Wreckage opens as two abused youngsters put a bullet in their mother’s drug-dealing boyfriend then shoot mom for good measure. Fifteen years later, the gun-toting sibling escapes prison before the film segues to a suspenseful, well-scripted scene where a smooth-talking serial-killer (whom we presume is the jailbird) lures a sweet young thing (Ariel Monica Putman) into his car. In a neat twist, it is the would-be murderer who falls prey to the slash-happy maniac, although in a sign of things to come, the tension dissipates with a jokey send-off.
As per the age-old tradition of slasher films, the main thrust of the plot concerns two cute young couples: Iraq War veteran Jared (Mike Erwin) is happily engaged to sweetheart Kate (Cameron Richardson) while his rowdy buddy Rick (Aaron Paul) has a hot pregnant girlfriend in Jessica (Kelly Kruger) but zero interest in settling down. Rick is the kind of obnoxious ass omnipresent throughout the slasher genre, purely a plot device for screenwriters unable to craft believable relationships. Why seemingly picture perfect people like Jared and Kate are friends with a troublesome jerk remains an unanswered mystery. When their car’s fan belt snaps during a drag race, the friends find themselves stranded miles from home and decide to search for a spare belt at a nearby scrap yard. Here, Rick’s careless horseplay with a loaded gun (see what I mean?) leaves Kate wounded and in desperate need of medical attention. A frantic Jared runs to the Sheriff’s office for help, but when he returns his friends have all vanished. And that maniac is on the loose.
After the compelling setup, the cast of photogenic TV familiar faces (Richardson appeared in the slasher serial Harper’s Island while Paul was in the remake of Last House on the Left) abruptly exit as scriptwriter Danny Frigerio introduces a whole other set of characters: dopey deputies Berry and Riley (Justin Allen), paramedics Janet and Faye (Bevin Prince), and grumpy old Sheriff Macabee (Roger Perry) who quickly proves more trouble than he is worth. Another interesting touch is how readily everyone responds to ex-soldier Jared’s leadership skills as the elusive madman targets this panicky posse. It says something about contemporary horror fandom how many genre enthusiasts were incensed that this killer uses a gun, instead of some random hacking implement.
Once the killing starts, the film reverts to type but director John Mallory Asher scores points for being less interested in sophomoric gore and torture scenes than crafting atypical and often darkly comical suspense scenes. Some of the goofier humour seems misplaced but a few gags hit their mark. In the wake of delivering such a winningly low-key performance in indie sensation Monsters (2010), it comes as something of surprise that Scoot McNairy overplays his Southern fried junkyard recluse. He is almost like a cartoon character and returns for a silly, post-credits gag referencing Weekend At Bernie’s (1989), of all things. Nevertheless, jaded slasher fans may appreciate Asher and Frigerio’s attempt to wring some fresh nuances from a well-worn scenario, along with a shock ending that does not insult your intelligence and proves oddly touching in a way.