REVIEW: Dashcam (2021)

dir. Rob Savage

If one conducted a census, there would probably be only three people left in the country who have not seen Host, the scorchingly inventive micro-budget debut co-written by director Rob Savage, Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, and filmed during lockdown. Expectations were, therefore, almost stratospheric for the team’s follow-up feature, this time produced by Blumhouse. And Dashcam is a similar – yet different – beast: though trading on many of the same tropes (found/live footage) it’s a much gorier ride. If Host was a nosebleed, Dashcam is a haemorrhage.

Annie Hardy (played by indie rock vocalist, Annie Hardy) is an American, anti-lockdown Trump supporter who leaves the US to stay in the UK with an old friend, Stretch (played by Amar Chadha-Patel). Best – and most generously – described as kooky and sweary, Annie steals her friend’s car, setting a series of unfortunate events in motion that leave an old woman called “Angela” bleeding from her covered mouth in the back seat. Who is Angela? Why is she there? And why is she ruining the upholstery? As questions begin to tumble, it’s here that the film swerves into genre territory.

Perhaps expectedly, given the creators’ previous offering, Annie films everything – either via her iPhone or the car’s dashcam – and also hosts a live show called Band Car, in which she extemporises rap on her Fisher-Price keyboard based on viewer suggestions as she drives: we see the live feed with its electronic proscenium, viewer counts and comments. This is a film within a film, while the actual film unfolds. Or unravels. Or explodes. Any of the three will do. It’s a technical masterclass, and Savage has suggested looking out for the viewer comments on DVD as an enormous amount of time (and writers, and new software) was spent creating these reactions, and the theories Annie’s audience have about what’s happening. It is literally another script inside a script.

After 30 minutes of full-throttle mystery the film suffers slightly from a second act sag where audiences may begin to question certain decisions: Annie’s reactions are sometimes glib and indifferent to the point of obliviousness, as murder, mutilation and mayhem surround her, but she responds as if she’d only narrowly avoided hitting a badger. The second half then loses a little pace and drive, something compounded by frenetic editing that creates confusion as to what’s happening, undermining tension and suspense.

But this is a team which has reserves of talent that will keep them going for at least a decade. Shepherd, Savage and Hurley have written an incredibly funny film, the trio reinventing modern horror in ways which are so subtle they have barely begun to be recognised.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

 G Neil Martin

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