It’s hard not to admire director Rob Savage for his resilience as a filmmaker. Despite a virus looming over the world, he found a way to make feature films under such heavy constraints. In 2020, he made the well-regarded Host, a horror movie that revolves around a Zoom call. And now in 2021, we have his latest effort Dashcam, a horror movie that revolves around… Actually, no, it doesn’t revolve entirely around a dashcam. In fact, doing that would have revealed a level of thoughtfulness on Savage’s part. What we get instead is a movie that plays around with an internet-based format, but does almost nothing clever with it.
Instead of centering around a dashcam of any kind, Dashcam centers around a livestream called BandCar. According to its creator Annie (Annie Hardy), it is “The Internet’s #1 Live Improvised Music Show Broadcast from a Moving Vehicle”. So on a regular basis, Annie takes single-word comments from her viewers and integrates them into lyrics while she drives. However, this is not exactly a regular day. During her trip to the UK, she crosses paths with a mysterious woman named Angela (Angela Enahoro). At first, it looks like Angela is in need of someone to protect her. However, it becomes clear that she is more dangerous than she appears. As such, Annie – along with a “friend” named Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel) – must fend off Angela in order to survive the night.
I would love to dive first into how lazily Savage integrates the livestream format, but that would ignore the elephant in the room: Annie herself. There are no two ways about it, she is quite possibly the most insufferable protagonist of any movie I’ve seen in ages. First of all, her anti-vax and anti-mask stance are so apparent that she outright harasses strangers about the topics. She also constantly goes around making vulgar remarks as if they’re the funniest thing in the world. And if that wasn’t enough, she abuses her “friend” by intruding into his house and slapping him awake with spit on her hand! All of this would be tolerable if the intent was to make the audience root against her. But as the movie progresses, it’s clear this is not the case.
How about that livestream format, you ask? One of the joys about internet-based movies like Searching or Unfriended is seeing how the central gimmick informs something about the main character. Just the sight of icons in disarray is enough to get a sense that the protagonist has a carefree life. Unfortunately. Dashcam does not put its format to clever use. At most, the comments section reflects the thoughts of the audience. This means you see comments like “LOOK BEHIND YOU” and “THIS IS TOO MUCH FOR ME”. But that’s the thing: the comments only ever represent the viewer. Not once does it feel like it’s an extension of the character. In fact, there are long stretches where the comments disappear entirely, leaving the livestream as nothing but a wall of persistent text.
With all those setbacks, Dashcam finds itself in a rather ugly position. Even as a found-footage movie, it’s largely a misfire. I already expressed my disappointment in the movie not taking on the POV of a dashcam. Part of that reasoning is that the locked perspective could have allowed the film to not utilize the blurry, unsteady camerawork of most found-footage projects. But with that concept out of the window, the final result is an onslaught of images that are difficult to parse. Just about the only times it slows down is whenever Savage wants to showcase nasty gore effects. To his credit, the blood-letting becomes more frequent, but the intent to render the narrative into a blur persists.
If the movie has anything in its favor, it’s the character of Angela. For one thing, she is responsible for most of the decent gore sequences. Better than that, though, is how gradually Savage, Gemma Hurley, and Jed Shepherd’s screenplay drops the shocking details. When we first meet her, she appears as a meek, frail individual. But the more time we spend with her, the more we see her ability to change Annie’s night for the worse. In the span of several scenes, she becomes a striking figure from which it’s hard to look away. It’s clear that the filmmakers wanted to do something remarkable with this character. It’s just a shame she plays second fiddle to the horrible woman the film calls its protagonist.
Wasting potential is always a no-no, and it’s impressive that Dashcam spends its entire 77-minute runtime on doing exactly that. It wastes a perfectly good antagonist, and it wastes the storytelling format that makes it distinct. Admittedly, there is one instance in which it doesn’t put the livestream format to poor use. But since that takes place during the end credits, you still have to wade through an entire bad movie to get there. I won’t say that Savage should put an end to his streak of unique, low-budget horror movies. What I will say is that Savage should think much harder about how to make his next project satisfying on top of being original. – Mark Tan
Dashcam‘s release date has yet to be announced.