BFI London Film Festival presents Dashcam, coming soon to cinemas nationwide.
Nobody is offering us modern found footage horror like Rob Savage. His debut feature Host perfectly integrated the pandemic zeitgeist of the Zoom party while haunting it with a dreadful supernatural affliction. In Host, Savage delivered what many, for example, Unfriended’s Levan Gabriadze, had failed to do by horrifying the internet generation. Since Host, we’ve seen several HTTP horrors find their footing, for example, Eugene Kotlyarenko’s Spree. Here, Kotlyarenko and Savage have clearly understood the need to craft their stories around authentic internet iconography. Both, ensuring the internet is the most prominent character in their story. With Host, the main character was Zoom, while in Spree, it was Uber and Twitch, but in DASHCAM, it appears to be Facebook Live.
The inclusion of a platform like Facebook Live may feel like a surprisingly out-of-touch choice, but that description also fits DASHCAM’s chief protagonist. Here we are introduced to Annie Hardy, a right-wing anti-vaxxer and general conspiracy nut, as she flees America mid-pandemic for a care-free holiday with an old bandmate, Stretch. Here the choice of character is unusual, her controversial views an intentional challenge from Savage, as Annie’s infinitely-grating personality permeates the screen.
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With DASHCAM, Savage moves from webcams to phones, as Annie live-streams her every waking moment to whoever will listen. Her incessant gospel of vaccine conspiracies and ‘liberal snowflake’ takedowns are reminiscent of the plethora of right-wingers who live-streamed through the pandemic. Each one, spreading misinformation and fear – often on Facebook Live. Writers Gemma Hurley, Savage and Jed Shepherd have carefully considered the online characterisation of Annie just as much as the overarching narrative. Their story reflects that Facebook Live was, and to an extent still is, a barren cesspool of right-wing boomers preaching from their rotting pulpits.
Using Annie as his main character, Savage smartly challenges his audience; can we root for Annie’s survival despite her monstrously large ego and problematic politics? It’s a fascinating question and one that has often surrounded horror. But back to Annie and the question at hand. Here, I would argue yes, if only because if Annie dies, then the story dies – and with DASHCAM, you don’t want it to end.
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As expected, Annie’s old bandmate, Stretch, can only bear her for so long, and once the two come to loggerheads, Annie steals Stretch’s car. She then elects to grab some food via Stretch’s side-gig as a food deliverer because why should she need to do any work? It’s this one decision that begins a never-ending nightmare for both Annie and Stretch. What’s hilarious about DASHCAM is that it only works if you have the world’s biggest egotistical asshole at its centre, and fortunately, Savage both embraces and encourages this fact.
The only questionable caveat of DASHCAM is, funnily enough, Annie herself. As it turns out, it’s less of a portrayal than initially thought. In reality, Annie Hardy is an anti-vax conspiracy theorist, and in many ways, is the individual we see in DASHCAM, cranked up to cartoonish levels. Here Savage blurs the lines between reality and fiction in a devilishly uncomfortable fashion. The resulting character leads you to wonder what pieces of Annie are fictional and authentically her. In interviews, Savage highlighted that “whatever her beliefs, she followed the [COVID] testing regime. We had no cases on the shoot. She was super respectful.”
But Savage’s choice of actor and character opens up more extensive conversations on the type of people we choose to follow in any film – DASHCAM follows Annie, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it supports her. After all, unhinged cinematic chaos like this needs an equally unhinged and chaotic lead, and Annie fulfils that perfectly. Here, transcribing the feeling of DASHCAM into words is an arduous task, but simply put, it is a roller-coaster of fucking madness, with every twist and turn pushing the audience further. Here it feels like Savage incorporates every possible element of horror from mysterious figures to demonic entities, gore and cult conspiracies. But this is all just in the first 30 minutes! Seeing a director work with such feverish intensity is wonderfully refreshing; his directorial fluidity, something many other horror directors could learn from.
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DASHCAM holds technical challenges that one can only marvel at – a particular standout is Annie’s struggle to free herself from a car flooding with water. Somehow, Savage is able to maintain a viewable frame whilst also attempting to destroy it with delightful chaos. In fact, someone needs to contact the folks over at Shudder and offer Rob the director’s job on the V/H/S franchise – he has a perfectly twisted mind for it.
Once DASHCAM begins moving, it doesn’t stop, taking you on one of the most insane rides you will experience this year. It is a feral beast of a film. It snaps and warps like a possessed contortionist, taking you from laughter to abject fear at the drop of a hat. DASHCAM is without a doubt one of the best horror film experiences of recent years. But it is also a film that highlights the power of communal cinema, as you become engulfed by the collective mass of gasps, screams and uncomfortable giggles.