DASHCAM (2021)

Rob Savage’s 2020 Host was the perfect pandemic film, a resourceful ensemble horror based on a few friends catching up via a Zoom call. The film turned lockdown adversity to their advantage and the rapport of his cast, DIY special effects and clever camera trickery contributed to an entertaining and often very effective zeitgeist chiller. Perversely, the film worked best when watched on a laptop screen at home.

DASHCAM, Savage’s follow-up, has the same scriptwriting trio (Savage plus Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd) but this time is freed from the confines of lockdown webcams and is a highly kinetic rollercoaster ride. It’s a messy, visceral and very entertaining contribution to the found footage genre.

Taking the form of a live-steam show hosted by LA musician Annie Hardy (playing herself), it’s filmed entirely with her mobile phone camera. Savage uses the mobility to full advantage: Hardy’s stream is literally set in a car. Savage then takes us to a succession of claustrophobic spaces – cars, a tunnel, narrow endless corridors as well as spooky forests and darkened roads.

In the titular dashcam films Annie drives as she spouts a cascade of reactionary put-downs and improvises rap lyrics over a backing track played from a cheap sampler. Annie has flown from LA to London to be the (unwelcome) guest of former bandmate Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel). Brash, loud and obnoxious, sporting a red MAGA cap and mocking a shopkeeper for insisting on wearing a Covid mask, she is the polar opposite to unassuming Stretch who displays a Black Lives Matter logo in his house front window.

It’s not long before Annie finds herself picking up a mysterious, mute and frail old woman Angela (Angela Enahoro) that sets of a chaotic sequence of increasingly terrifying and extreme events.

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 14: Screenwriters Gemma Hurley, and Jed Shepherd, Annie Hardy, director Rob Savage, Angela Enahoro and producer Douglas Cox attend the “Dashcam” UK Premiere during the 65th BFI London Film Festival at the Odeon Luxe West End on October 14, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for BFI)

While Host‘s protagonists were polite and well behaved, and the supernatural scares were built on atmosphere and jump scares, DASHCAM is a very different film. The mobile phone footage is claustrophobic and, much like in the tenser moments of Blair Witch Project (the grandmother of found footage movies), it’s often difficult to see what’s actually going on, particularly in low lighting.

Once the scares start, it’s relentless, and Savage takes great delight in amplifying the absurdity as well as the terror. Everything is over the top, be it bloody car crashes, fountains of gore or terrifying darkened forests, but it works. The breakneck pace and brief run-time (it’s little more than an hour, excluding a whole 11 minutes of end credits) give this film a whirlwind momentum. DASHCAM feels more like a rollercoaster ride than a conventionally structured movie (we even get to enjoy a brief visit to a fairground) with its accelerated thrills interspersed with occasional pauses to catch our breath.

There’s a lot of very black humour, much of it from the grotesque excesses of the horror set-ups and gruesome special effects (once again by Dan Martin), and Savage is not afraid of scatological gross-out as well as knowing riffs on horror tropes. There’s plenty of body fluids, and not just blood.

Just as the Host screen mimicked a Zoom call, DASHCAM is viewed through the Annie’s livestream console, with a continuous tickertape of viewers’ reactions offering a fun commentary on the action, mocking the inane right-wing Trump-supporting social media contributions that plagues most political online discourse. Unfortunately, this element and Annie’s brash and juvenile humour begin to outlive their welcome like an over-extended comedy sketch.

Annie seems like such an exaggeration of the stereotypical US right-wing reactionary, I was astounded to learn that Annie Hardy holds very similar views and is effectively playing a version of herself. Savage has explained that he certainly doesn’t share her values, and the film seems to be mocking her as a caricature. So why did Hardy take part, given that she was exposing herself to hostile ridicule? It seems Savage considered her a central collaborator on the film particularly for her witty improvised dialogue, and there is a cartoonish element of the performance, but in the film she comes across as crass, ugly and unsympathetic. Will right-wing libertarians in the audience cheer on Annie as one of their own or will they be angered by how the character is mocked by the film? Time will tell, but the revelation left me with a peculiar and bizarre aftertaste.

Either way, this is an extremely (in all senses of the word) entertaining movie. It’s a blast to watch, and my press preview screening was punctuated by a blend of screams, repulsed groans and loud laughter. We’re not here for intricate plotting, which is just as well as this is a very chaotic and messy film, most of the events are confusing and inexplicable. Best seen with a rowdy enthusiastic crowd at a midnight cinema screening., we’re here for the thrill of the ride, and DASHCAM delivers.

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