DIRECTOR: Rob Savage

CAST: Annie Hardy, Angela Enahoro, Amer Chadha-Patel, Mogali Masuku, James Swanton, Jemma Moore, Caroline Ward, Edward Linard, Emma Louise Webb, Seylan Baxter, Faith Kiggundu

RUNNING TIME: 77 mins

CERTIFICATE: 18

BASICALLY…: A live-streaming musician (Hardy) is drawn into a horrifying situation…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

While the world was getting to grips with lockdown back in 2020 (except, apparently, everyone in 10 Downing Street), director Rob Savage spent his time wisely by conducting the Zoom horror sensation Host, an impressive and genuinely scary DIY genre flick that made strong use of the isolated nature of computer screens and COVID-inspired paranoia. The film turned out to be such a success that Savage was commissioned by none other than Jason Blum, the reigning king of low-budget horror fare, to make a new entry that promised found-footage horror on a completely different level – and, in fairness, they certainly delivered on that front with Dashcam.

Savage’s follow-up film is a completely different kind of ride than Host: it’s meaner, gorier, less concerned with moral ethics, and with much more active handheld camera work. Unsurprisingly, it’s already proving to be extremely divisive amongst critics and audiences – for reasons that will certainly be addressed in this review – and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t fully understand why. In addition to not being anywhere near as smart, sophisticated or even as scary as Host, Dashcam works best as an intriguing experiment of how to frequently test the patience of the viewer, and see how they react to some of the most horrifying imagery you’ll perhaps see in a movie this year – and I’m not exactly talking about the actual scary stuff, either.

The film, much like Host, is told entirely through the perspective of an online video feed, this one being a constant livestream run by American musician Annie Hardy (playing a, presumably, much more warped version of herself here) where she drives around improvising rap lyrics at the suggestion of her constantly commenting viewers. Already weary of the lockdown restrictions in her country, Annie hops on a plane to the UK where she shacks up with former bandmate Stretch (Amer Chadha-Patel), but after one of many bitter confrontations – more on those in a bit – she ends up stealing his car and driving around while her livestream continues to show everything. Along the way, she ends up with a new passenger, a woman named Angela (Angela Enahoro) who very quickly turns Annie’s night into a never-ending nightmare.

First, let’s discuss the one true reason why everyone is so split about this film: the main character. To say that Annie is an utter demon in and of herself would be putting it politely; she is perhaps one of the most obnoxious protagonists of a horror movie – or indeed any movie – in a long time (which is really saying something, given how intolerable a lot of horror leads can be), and the fact that the viewer has to spend an entire movie with this utter nightmare of a person is the film’s biggest endurance test. This is a protagonist who is designed to be as offensive and un-PC as possible, to a point where she barely feels like a character and more like a constant source of shock value that makes the viewer more and more uncomfortable by the minute. Examples of her behaviour throughout Dashcam include, but are not limited to, spouting radical anti-vax conspiracy theories (even when in considerable danger), committing offenses such as breaking into people’s homes and later stealing their cars, stubbornly refusing to wear masks inside shops, and speaking in a loud and boisterous tone that will make you grind your teeth nearly every time. It would take the strongest of stomachs to put up with such a person for a contained amount of time, and to Savage’s credit he clearly does intend for the audience to very much not like his protagonist in the slightest, but it does reach a point where she becomes too much to handle, even for a crazy horror movie such as this one.

There are, indeed, parts of Dashcam where it really does go absolutely apeshit, turning into an endless parade of freaky imagery set to barely comprehensible handheld cinematography, which often threatens to undermine its atmosphere as much as the unbearable protagonist. As with Host, Savage has a keen eye for creepy composition of disturbing detail, but since most of it is conveyed from the perspective of someone running whilst holding a camera, it becomes extremely difficult to even make most of it out. Host at least benefitted from having the Zoom cameras remain static for almost all of the running time, and even then it was shot to where you could still make out every little detail. Here, though, the camerawork is much more chaotic, which I suppose is in keeping with the anarchic nature of the overall film, but even still it makes it hard to appreciate the levels of visual horror that Savage and his team have conjured when you can barely see what they’ve put together.

Most of all, though, the movie just isn’t that scary: freaky, certainly, but not scary. Many of the sudden scares come with little tension or build-up, so there isn’t much time to really feel afraid of something other than being given brief glimpses of some unnerving frames (shout-out to performer Angela Enahoro, who leaves a sizeable impression with just the eeriest of glances toward the camera). You’re way more distracted by how insufferable the protagonist is rather than being sucked in to the actual sense of terror that the movie is trying to convey, which sullies the overall impact. Hell, in terms of freaky horror imagery, this isn’t even the most out-there thing I’ve seen this week – the climax to Men outdoes the entirety of Dashcam, it has to be said – but not for lack of trying, for like Host it’s easy to respect what Savage and his hard-working creative team were trying to do here.

Sadly, it mostly doesn’t work, and works best as a party game amongst friends, to see which of them can last the longest with this utter nightmare of a lead (it helps my case that the only two other people in my screening very quickly walked out, though I gallantly stayed right until the merciful end).

SO, TO SUM UP…

Dashcam sees breakout Host filmmaker Rob Savage admirably go even further in trying to deliver ambitious found-footage scares, but sadly most of it is undone by a lack of fruitful scares, mostly incomprehensible handheld cinematography, and one of the most obnoxious protagonists in modern cinema.

Dashcam is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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