Director: Rob Savage
Stars: Angela Enahoro, Amar Chadha-Patel, Annie Hardy
In Yoshimitsu Banno’s superb 1971 kaiju movie Godzilla vs. Hedorah, our goliath reptilian overlord does battle with a cutely designed alien monster comprised of animated garbage, sludge, slim, smog and toxic waste. If you compressed Hedorah down into human form, it might resemble Annie (Annie Hardy); a MAGA-loving COVID sceptic who is seemingly intolerant of every other human on the planet. Permanently vlogging from her BandCar – where she improv-raps a deluge of juvenile slurs – Annie flees the States as her ire at lockdown intensifies. Arriving in the UK, she is appalled to find even tighter restrictions circumventing her freedoms and seemingly decides to take it out on her former bandmate, Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel).
In the midst of the pandemic, Annie chooses to wake Stretch by spitting in her hand and slapping him in the face. That tells you most of what you need to know about her.
It’s a little while before Rob Savage’s latest pandemic-era found footage horror locates it’s supernatural pinch point but, for viewers, the gauntlet of getting through Dashcam has already begun. Annie’s extreme views, galling lack of respect and hot-garbage mouth present us with a wildly divisive protagonist. On the one hand it’s refreshing to see a horror movie present such a repellent woman as it’s lead. On the other, it’s fresh hell spending so much time with her.
The knee-jerk response would be to assume Annie’s politics reflect Savage’s, but that seems a little less likely once the picture’s horror motor gets revving. Having stolen Stretch’s car, Annie assumes his role as a delivery driver, picking up an order in the hopes of pocketing some cash. Instead she finds herself responsible for a sickly Black woman named Angela (Angela Enahoro). Shit doesn’t quite hit the fan, instead it cascades freely onto the backseat of Stretch’s pilfered hatchback. Leaking fluids all over, Angela’s zombie-like visage is the extreme nightmare version of a wildly uncontrolled pathogen. One suspects, therefore, that Annie’s coronavirus scepticism is as much a front as the rest of her high-walled persona. Dashcam keeps her in close proximity to a supernaturally viral threat.
Savage’s breakout hit Host confined it’s cast within their homes and ramped up some nice tension in the process. Dashcam roams freely, allowing a far wider range of physicality along with opportunities for some wild pyrotechnics. The crew mount some impressively gnarly set-pieces, including multiple car crashes. The found-footage shaky cam approach adds immediacy to these sequences, while harsh edits, unseen VFX and bravura stunt work does the rest. It is here that Dashcam impresses the most. The film also evidences a particularly dark sense of humour. A gag involving a late-deploying airbag might be the best example of this.
As the night wears on things get increasingly freaky. At it’s best, Dashcam recalls the brattiness and wherewithal of an exploded V/H/S short. Indeed, it seems to riff on one prior segment from that series particularly, while also acknowledging a debt to The Blair Witch Project.
In an effort to maintain a sense of authenticity, Savage has the comments and reactions of Annie’s followers scroll in the bottom left corner of the frame for a majority of the picture. It’s hard to understate how phenomenally distracting this is. And while Savage uses the motif as a way to reflect online misogyny and prurient humour, he also can’t resist using it for self-reflexive snark, pre-empting his attackers with comments on how fake his on-screen blood looks, or how raggedy the effects are. Dashcam benefits immensely whenever Annie loses connection and this stream of business ceases.
Even so, Annie herself remains the biggest sticking point and for many viewers the real test of Dashcam will be their ability to tolerate her shrill, hypocritical worldview. Spikily representative of online extremism and a culture split down the middle by fast-applied labels, she makes a 60 minute film feel double that. If you’ve clocked the running time (rightly) as 77 minutes, be advised/warned that Hardy improv raps the entire end credits once the main part of the movie is over, and that this itself takes something in the region of 15 minutes.
Savage continues to show ingenuity within the subgenre and seems to thrive on the restrictions of found footage, seeking new ways to make it creative, and that’s respectable. Dashcam is about as vulgar an example as I can think of, and I’m sure it’s creatives will wear it’s inevitable reputation as a badge of honour. Much like Annie would.
Don’t expect an easy time.