Dir: Rob Savage. Starring: Annie Hardy, Angela Enahoro, Amer Chadha-Patel, Mogali Masuku, James Swanton, Jemma Moore. 18, 87 minutes.
Here’s a clever new hook for a horror film – what if you had a protagonist so despicable that you couldn’t help but root against them? Dashcam – from Get Out and The Purge studio Blumhouse – features at its centre a narcissistic bully in a Maga hat who, even when their life is on the line, still finds the energy to spout Covid conspiracies. Despite that, they have a cockroach-like ability to survive any peril.
Dashcam walks the same path as 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, there’s no doubt about that. You could even argue that it’s a major part of Rob Savage’s DNA as a filmmaker, since his 2020 debut Host was pretty much the closest replication we’ve had to that lo-fi, DIY breakout in recent years. Host was a found footage oddity primed for modern times, with a séance attempted over Zoom going horribly wrong. Savage has a bigger VFX budget to play with here – and a multi-location sense of spectacle – but not quite as tight or effective a concept, even if it replicates the found footage angle from Host and is all shot on iPhones. It brings to mind that some people are often at their most ingenious when faced with creative limitations.
But Dashcam is still a riot. Sure, it’s a film whose spell I can imagine being instantly broken the second you remove it from the precise context it was made for – in a cinema, with as large an audience as possible, all of them hooting and hollering – but that should hardly be counted as a mark against it. If anything, it’s proof that Savage knows exactly the kind of film he’s making. Dashcam is pure chaos, headlined by a character with a maelstrom for a personality. Annie Hardy, one half of the LA-based music duo Giant Drag, plays Annie, an exaggerated version of herself – although to what degree, it’s not entirely clear. As in real life, she’s the host of a live-streamed show called Band Car, in which she improvises dirty raps while driving around the city.
To evade Covid lockdown, Annie hops on a plane to the UK and drops by the house of former bandmate Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel). And by drop by, I of course mean breaks into his house in the dead of night. Soon enough, she’s kicked out of the house and decides to steal Stretch’s car. When she’s asked by a stranger to help chauffeur an elderly woman, Angela (Angela Enahoro), to another address, she accepts only because there’s some money to be made. But there’s something very, very wrong with Angela. And Annie only finds out when it’s far too late.
Dashcam is the haunted-maze, “something’s around the corner” brand of scary, and kept light thanks to Annie’s amusingly blazé reactions to what’s going on. Even in the film’s phantasmagoric final stretch, she’s still there screaming “s**t on my dick” and “c***s in my face” over and over again. But the film’s party-friendly atmosphere sneaks in some interesting observations. Firstly, there’s something to be said about a conspiratorial horror lead who immediately assumes that something fishy is up (her guess? An “adrenochrome-harvesting party”, à la Pizzagate), but doesn’t actually do anything about it. If Annie sincerely believed any of her wild theories, would she have driven right into the middle of this mess in the first place?
There’s also a second, hidden narrative unfolding in the comments of her livestream – a snapshot portrait of how much the internet has corrupted our relationship with the truth. She’s being watched exclusively by cynics who think it’s “fake as f***” when she’s begging for her life. Sociopaths tell her to flash her breasts at a man in front of her who’s on fire. Viewers somehow end up arguing over crime statistics. At no point does anyone actually try to help her. Dashcam makes a good point: when the whole world’s coming at you through a screen, it becomes increasingly hard to tell the difference between life and entertainment.
‘Dashcam’ is in cinemas from Friday 3 June