‘Dashcam’ Unmasks Horrors of the Pandemic Era in a Livestream Shot From the Right
It’s never been so easy to root for the monsters as it is in writer-director Rob Savage’s iPhone livestream footage film, “Dashcam.” Even when they’re bleeding and worse in the back seat of the clean new ride, you have to wonder: which is the monster, the social media Antifa-shamer or the pandemic’s poster-zombie.
Annie Hardy is Annie Hardy, a satiric copy of herself playing it totally straight, but getting the laughs. The audience really doesn’t know who is scarier, the hungry patient zeroes or the lady in the MAGA hat who sings, “You Fuck Like My Dad.” This may be complacent genius, or lazy ignorance. It might be insidious brainwashing. “Dashcam” could be a paradoxical antidote for ironic mass-hypnosis. If it weren’t for the well-staged crashes and excessively disgusting special effects, one could assume Savage just put Hardy in front of a dash cam and chased her through a forest, giving her the freedom to spout as she pleases so long as she keeps up the pace. She does. She wins. Annie Hardy is a hero, a villain, and collateral damage. But never a victim.
Short, amusing, and gloriously gory in its low-budget independence, “Dashcam” may have blown more of its overhead on gas than production. Savage’s pandemic-age, lockdown horror film, “Host,” was basically made on Zoom chats, and it is good to see him get out of the house. But now, with the Discord comment streams, and angry emojis scrolling by, it seems he was happier as a shut-in. In “Dashcam,” Annie is a social media star who brings her intentionally grating charm to a show called “Band Car.” It is the “Internet’s Number One Live Improvised Show Broadcast from a Moving Vehicle,” according to the omnipresent logo. She drives around Los Angeles rapping, exhaling on mouth-breathing mask wearers, harassing naked bicycle riders, and slapping her ex-bandmate, Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel), when she leaves the over-regulated city to drive on the wrong side of England, where a zombie apocalypse is taking shape.
Between the unconventional horror and the livestreaming freeform, “Dashcam” is a bumpy ride. Like most found-footage movies, even shot on iPhones, the majority of the film goes by in a blur of shaky and unfocused camera work. This is probably to cover up for whatever is missing in the actual footage because gas prices rose during the shooting of the film. Wait until you see what Angela (Angela Enohoro) left in the backseat of the car Annie steals from Stretch. Who’s gonna pay for that? Universal healthcare? Not even in Great Britain, where Annie only tolerates the tea.
Annie can be a giant drag, like any anti-vaxxer, or vaxxer for that matter, if you spend too much time reading their Twitter feeds. Savage livestreams Annie as the living embodiment of the festering infection terrorizing the outskirts of London, until she is more frightening than Covid itself. She can’t be killed. “Dashcam” plays out in real-time, after Annie is kicked out of Stretch’s house by his wife Gemma (Jemma Moore), steals their car and makes good on a food delivery. The film does not waste time on explanations, or thought on its plot.
Co-written by Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, “Dashcam” is unwatchable, but whether you agree or disagree, you can’t take your eyes off Annie, except when there’s no signal on the phone, or Stretch is streaming to an increasingly hostile audience. Hardy’s improvisations are mesmerizing, whether you are waiting to be shocked by the next insult or genuinely worried whether she’ll ever get that icky satanic embryo gook out of her hair.
Savage’s “Screen Life” was also a right-wing exploitation film, which may become a new genre. Savage hides his satire well, there are no overt laugh lines, intentionally. The viewer comments range from rude to crude, to being equally as concerned as they are twisted by the fates of the main characters. They type the same things people yell at movie screens in theaters, “don’t go in there,” “look behind you,” or “don’t leave us alone with Stretch,” whether we see a deserted amusement park, an abandoned house, an empty trailer, a clump of bushes or an Ariana Grande tattoo. But the “Band Car” followers mix it in with character assassinations.
Unlikable protagonists are all the rage now. Except, the dash cam in “Dashcam” doesn’t capture a Blair Witch red-handed as irrefutable proof of the supernatural evils in the world. The witch is holding the camera. Ultimately, “Dashcam” is a chase movie, and Angela just can’t seem to get away.
“Dashcam” releases June 3 in select theaters and June 6 on VOD.