Film, Horror, Reviews

DASHCAM is the gonzo found footage horror satire to end them all (Film Review)

Anyone who saw Host during lockdown will have been damn excited to see DASHCAM.

Rob Savage exploded onto the horror movie scene with his hour long, super low budget but highly effective slice of Zoom-based terror which dropped right at the apex of Covid-19 paranoia and fear, mid-2020, as the world watched, waited and worried. Host was ragged around the edges but enormously creepy and played a set of new beats on the now well played tune that is found footage horror. It brought that fear into not just the computer screen but the home in an even more acute way than Unfriended or Friend Request etc… films with a bigger budget playing with that intersection between the online and the unfathomable.

DASHCAM is an altogether different beast. Though deliberately still lo-fi, Savage is graced with a bolstered budget thanks to a three picture deal with modern horror maestro production house Blumhouse and a transatlantic approach and appeal, not to mention a fusion of fiction and hyper-reality. Fronted by Annie Hardy, playing a firebrand version of herself—albeit not too dissimilar by all accounts to her actual persona—DASHCAM feels less about trying to scare and designed more to throw audiences into a frenzied world of relentless chaos, in which technology allows voyeuristic patrons the chance to watch true carnage unfold in real time.

To his credit, Savage doesn’t try and repeat the trick of Host with DASHCAM. He just decides to go completely off the leash.

DASHCAM feels deliberately designed to provoke not just horror fans but broader cinema goers.

That said, will this really break out from beyond the bounds of horror and particularly found footage nerds? It’s hard to imagine it doing so, given how deliberately caustic the concept is. Hardy is essentially a right-wing poster child for the Carpool Karaoke generation, freestyle rapping often sexualised tunes while cruising around in her streaming show BandCar – the credits, whereby she raps explicit lyrics about the entire cast & crew, smashing down let alone breaking the fourth wall, really underlines this. Hardy is designed by the very nature of her MAGA loving, anti-vax, anti-mask rhetoric to make you uncomfortable.

Savage is clearly satirising this kind of sub-culture and neo-paranoid belief system. There is no suggestion he shares Hardy’s world view, either as a person or the slightly fictional version of herself in DASHCAM. Yet he’s talked about how kind and professional and just how well she comported herself during filming, as he told Total Film:

Look, it’s really important to talk about Annie Hardy in the movie, and Annie Hardy in real life. Because in the movie, Annie Hardy, the character, flies over and causes chaos. And in real life, she came over and was a joy to work with. She shared her thoughts, and she was respectful. And I also think it’s really admirable of Annie to take the piss out of herself like this, and to put herself out in a movie that people are going to watch and tweet about and get angry about. I don’t know. She’s a very brave, kind person.

In some ways, this should give us pause. Hardy would be a deliberately eccentric, right-wing figure it would be easy to throw scorn at, and chastise Savage for indulging in her brand as he does with DASHCAM, but he understands perhaps that Hardy’s views are a symptom rather than the disease. Which is appropriate given the horrific allegory he employs here, which takes a different approach to Covid-19 than Host did.

That film exploited our propensity for online conversation during the isolation of the pandemic and presented the suggestion that nowhere was safe, not even our own homes. We could be taken wherever we were and our Zoom screens were no defence. DASHCAM throws us into the existential chaos of the post-pandemic world as Hardy barrels her way into the life of her old friend, Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel), so named for reasons so gloriously filthy you’ll scarcely believe it, and tears his security apart.

It would be disingenuous to say much more about the nature of the horror because DASHCAM is best experienced as a rollercoaster along with Hardy, Stretch and the myriad amount of people they meet along the way. Savage manages to find a way to take a rather hoary old horror trope—the strange old person in need of rescue—and transform it into a ghoulish, devilish mixture of Blair Witch-style scene setting and at points, gonzo supervillain theatrics. It would be ridiculous if Savage didn’t already realise it was.

Which is why in many ways the horror isn’t the point of DASHCAM. On one sense, it’s exactly the point, given audiences are here to see blood, guts, jump scares, shaky camera glimpses of weirdness, and all of those are in evidence—sometimes in spades. But on the other, it never feels like a film principally about the horror Hardy experiences. Even for a field in which backstory is often scant, DASHCAM provides next to no context for what Hardy & Stretch experience. They are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and a bizarre situation spirals from there.

What’s more interesting is the Greek chorus, in text form, which remains a near constant companion to the action as it unfolds. Hardy’s BandCar fans and listeners, who grow as the chaos descends and people start dying, from an acorn of numbers into a rich tree of people engaging, are fascinating to watch and often detract from the on-screen action. This isn’t a criticism either, it’s part of the point. DASHCAM is all about chaos and disorientation, as we have all felt following the Covid pandemic, and Savage’s choice to animate the rubberneckers tuning in only adds a disturbing commentary to events on screen.

It isn’t the first time a trick like this has been pulled but it feels, in terms of longevity, unique. The BandCar viewers are as present as we are, some horrified, some getting off on the mayhem, some refusing to believe in what they’re seeing, others seeing things that aren’t even there. We see a microcosm of society in that chat thread and it’s disturbing. That, to me, is why though DASHCAM is noisy and obnoxious, and never really scares, the film worked. Savage is trying as much to satirise our love of found footage, of deep immersion into a chaotic horror situation, than creating one of his own.

DASHCAM really won’t be for everyone and that’s putting it mildly, but there is much more going on here than simply nonsensical horror theatrics. For all its madness, it’s a film about us.

★ ★ ★

DIRECTOR: Rob Savage

WRITERS: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage & Jed Shepherd

CAST: Annie Hardy, Amar Chadha-Patel, Angela Enahoro, Seylan Baxter, Caroline Ward

STUDIO: Momentum Pictures

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