Rob Savage returns after his lockdown sensation Host to tell another COVID-era tale with DASHCAM, the director’s first feature under the famed Blumhouse label.
Leaving the confines of apartment living for the great outdoors, DASHCAM gallivants through the deserted streets and abandoned UK countryside. Mostly taking place inside a cramped compact car, the insane ride audiences are about to embark on could be described as Rob Savage’s fevered take on a road trip movie. Interestingly, the bold inventiveness of the director takes a back seat to the person who’s actually behind the wheel.
Unveiled for the first time during DASHCAM‘s premiere at TIFF, the spotlight is now shining brightly on the film’s star and her lightning bolt performance. There are two questions you’ll probably be asking once the hilarious closing credits start to role: What just happened, and who the hell is Annie Hardy?
DASHCAM is inspired by a real-life livestream show called Band Car, in which musician Annie Hardy cruises around Los Angeles freestyling raps prompted by comments thrown out by her live viewers. The “character” of Annie is certainly a hyperbolized version of Hardy whose skewed world view teeters on the edge of insanity. Frustrated by the shelter-in-place order, Annie escapes L.A. for the UK with the great idea to surprise her bandmate Stretch and his wife who is decidedly unamused by her bizarre antics. Annie steals their car in search of adventure but winds up live-streaming a crazed night of terror where she crashes right into her very own monster movie.
In a questionable exchange, Annie agrees to transport a sick old woman named Angela to a remote address. Angela’s strange behavior matches Annie’s mania pound-for-pound but it becomes quickly apparent that Angela is infected with something demonic that’s dying to get out. In a series of frightening exchanges, it’s revealed that Angela may have actually been a great deal younger and is rapidly aging. She has the ability to disappear and reappear, float on command and run at super speed which really should alarm Annie more than it actually does.
Hardy’s reactions are just not what a normal person would do in this situation. Improvising most of her lines, there are some hilarious moments that show how Annie is processing the insanity around her. The chaotic behavior coming from Annie is in concert with the chaos in the film and Savage uses his star to great effect. Everyone uses their real names in DASHCAM removing barriers between the audience and what’s happening. Watching Hardy freestyle her way through Savage’s breakneck world gives the film a genuine feeling of danger. It’s the same thrill as standing in a rap cypher listening to someone going off the dome knowing they can lose their train of thought at any time. Although some of the set pieces here required planning because of the level of stunts involved, there’s a run-and-gun pace that’s absolutely exhilarating.
They’re all playing with fire and Savage and his team seem to throw everything they have in their arsenal. That’s why DASHCAM feels like a mic drop for the found footage genre. The shaky cam is used to such a dizzying degree that it’s almost as if the director is saying “Don’t ever try this again. I’ve done it to death. This is going to turn off viewers but I don’t think they really care.” In this way, DASHCAM feels like an act of rebellion for both Hardy and Savage.
The same goes for the livestream trope of having running comments going on that may offer clues to what’s lurking inside of Angela. Savage and his team worked tirelessly to write in clues and details that add to the experience and beg for a second viewing if you can stomach it. (Be sure to look for one biblical reference, in particular.) The live viewer commentary also allows them to use secondary ideas that weren’t used in the main story. In a clever twist, the comments aren’t running through the entire film when the connection starts to get spotty, allowing your eyes to get a little bit of rest. It’s a respite that’s needed especially in the final act that suddenly becomes more intimate and engaging. The ending of DASHCAM is surprisingly vulnerable for both the creature and its prey.
Speaking quickly about the creature design, it’s worth nothing that SFX whiz Dan Martin crafted the parasitic, slug-like monster whose work was also on display in the body horror of Possessor. Savage and Martin have worked together before and, if you look closely, every actress from Host appears in quick cameos here as well.
With an Evil Dead energy and a lead performance inspired by Bruce Campbell’s Ash, DASHCAM‘s video game appeal uses VFX trickery and fearless improv to create an experience akin to a wild ride at an abandoned theme park. It’s also a reminder that the horror genre can confront individuals that may not hold the same beliefs as the audience and actually celebrate that difference. Marvel has already trained us to do this, but make sure to stay for the end credits that highlight Annie Hardy’s mad brilliance to an even greater degree.
DASHCAM screened Saturday night at the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF runs September 9–18, 2021. For more information and showtimes, visit the festival’s website.
Rob Savage’s follow-up to HOST strikes new ground in the found footage subgenre and introduces us to a new kind of anti-hero.