Dashcam – BFI London Film Festival Review

by Sarah Miles

Coming up with a follow-up to a movie like 2020’s Host could lead to some real fear of a difficult second album. Host, the story of a group of friends on Zoom who decide that an online séance is a great way to beat the lockdown blues, and things go about as well as you might expect from that setup, was nothing short of a sensation. At a lean 56 minutes and shot remotely during lockdown, it not only delivered on the scares but also captured the time and place of the world it was released into. It’s even been deemed the scariest movie ever made by scientific study, dethroning previous title holder Sinister.

So, where does director and co-writer Rob Savage, along with fellow co-writers Jed Shepherd and Gemma Hurley, go from there? Especially now with mainstream horror powerhouse Blumhouse Productions behind them? Well, to Dashcam of course. Whilst it may not be as effective or as scary as Host, what it lacks in terror it more than makes up for in outrageous entertainment.

Musician and live streamer Annie Hardy (playing a version of herself) drives around L.A. doing an improvised music show. Fed up with Covid restrictions she decides to surprise old friend Stretch (Amer Chadha-Patel) in the U.K by visiting. After a few mishaps she ends up driving in the middle of nowhere with a mysterious woman, and the chaos that follows is all viewed by her dedicated streaming audience.

There’s a few particular phrases that have been floating around in the reactions to Dashcam are that it is “unhinged” and “polarising”, and it’s worth saying upfront that this isn’t because of anything in the actual plot of the movie. A few bodily fluids aside the main events of the film are pretty standard found footage fare of someone being where they’re not supposed to and the consequences thereof.

What pushes Dashcam to the edge, and is the reason for its growing reputation, is its protagonist. Annie Hardy is the worst person to be around during the Covid pandemic, or possibly any time at all really. Crass, rude, and capital ‘T’ toxic, she has zero filter and isn’t afraid to let everyone know her anti-vax, anti-mask, and pro-Trump ways – much to the delight of her viewers. Her persona is very much of the early 2000s shock “I can’t believe she just said that” and “I’m offensive to EVERYONE” brand of humour that will be familiar to anyone who came of age in the golden early era of South Park and its ilk. If you can’t get on board with Annie as a person, I can see it being very hard for you to get into Dashcam.  

Making someone like this the protagonist of a horror film, and particularly a found footage film where we spend so much time with her and from her point of view, is a bold and curious choice. You might find yourself waiting for a comeuppance for Annie’s behaviour, or a breakdown exposing her brash persona as being nothing more than a façade, but we don’t really get anything like that. She remains the same level of obnoxious throughout, which on one hand can be a little frustrating but on the other is almost kind of a comfort, that she can go through certain events and remain herself. As for me, I laughed at a good few of her antics even as I wanted to slap her and found the film’s 77-minute runtime to be the limit of time I could spend in her company.

Whilst Annie is the cornerstone of the film’s identity, that doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing to Dashcam. We still get the same tight story-telling that gives you enough details and titbits to draw you in and keep you curious, but not so much that you get overloaded with exposition. The great idea with found footage is that you only get a fraction of the story, and that feels very present here.

The rest of the cast around Hardy are decent (poor Stretch,) and eagle-eyed viewers can spy a few of the Host cast. While low on scares, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few good ones, mostly courtesy of Angela (Angela Enahoro), Annie’s elderly travelling companion who is apparently in high demand from various parties. Plus, there is something not quite right with Angela.

There’s also a nice amount of humour to be had from the running commentary of Annie’s livestream audience, who cut in and out of the action as Annie gains and loses signal (would love to know who her provider is). There has to be a cut of the film that’s just what the streamers see, with all the bewildering gaps in the narrative. I also love the idea that the first thing Savage, Shepherd, and Hurley did once they got that Blumhouse backing was go “let’s mess up some cars”, because there really is some vehicular carnage on display.

The biggest fault with the film is that despite the short runtime, there is still a fair bit of padding; there’s a lot of running, falling over, more running, falling over again, screaming someone’s name, and the like. You could argue that it comes with the territory, but eventually it gets a little tedious. There’s also no final punch to the film, no real payoff that satisfies. We do get a nice creature chase courtesy of another Host alumni James Swanton (he really is the British Doug Jones) but nothing that feels like an escalation from the previous running around.

How much you enjoy Dashcam will depend on how much you can tolerate its main character, but this feels like a party film; something you put on and watch with a large group of people to laugh, scream, and jeer along to.

With that in mind, its exactly the kind of crazy ride it needs to be.

Dashcam played as part of the BFI London Film Festival

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