‘Dashcam’ TIFF Review: Hit the Brakes

Dashcam is a repulsive piece of work in more ways than one. Beyond the scatological horror (yes, really) and sundry severed limbs, protagonist Annie Hardy– playing a considerably exaggerated version of herself– is one of the year’s most irritating horror protagonists. Not simply a COVID denier, before the horror even begins, Annie has harassed a store owner, stolen a car, and menaced her friend, Stretch’s (Amar Chadha-Patel) new girlfriend (Jemma Moore). She runs “Band Car,” the demented lovechild of Tucker Carlson and Carpool Karaoke, ostensibly the internet’s most popular live, improvised music show. It never really tracks that, at any given point, Annie is fluctuating between 30 and 40 viewers, but that’s the least of Dashcam’s problems. 

Director Rob Savage and cowriters Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd mine the same blueprint that rendered Host, their pandemic séance debut, a breakout hit last year, one that secured a lucrative deal with Blumhouse for additional features. Dashcam, the first of that bunch, is a discouraging augur. Where Host centred on an endearing group of friends and Zoom, Annie is at the other end of the COVID spectrum, a blithering, loud, caustic denier. In theory, this could work, but Savage and his writers sacrifice all nuance and overcommit to what wasn’t a great bit, to begin with. When the demonic savagery begins, it’s difficult to not just topple the television over when Annie takes jabs at Black Lives Matter or cracks a joke about masks while inches away from chittering, devilish teeth. 

It’s irritating in a way I’m not sure Rob Savage intended. For all the alleged Evil Dead and Blair Witch inspirations, Savage seems more beholden to the likes of Rob Zombie, a talented, visual filmmaker who– outside of The Lords of Salem–– cannot seem to write an endearing character. Even Stretch and his new girlfriend are irritating in their own ways, and one wonders why Savage thought it wise to preclude audiences from a single point of identification. The horror isn’t augmented, but rather jeopardized, by just how terrible these characters are. It’s frustrating and only grows worse as Dashcam trundles along toward a frankly uninspired conclusion. 

Despite all this, I still recommend Dashcam, if only on account of just how polarizing it’s poised to be. For every viewer that condemns it (and believe me, I’m among them) there’s one who’s liable to love just how chaotic, unhinged, and demented it is. Not for nothing, Rob Savage manages a number of genuinely impressive set pieces. It’s unfortunate that the constraints of the found footage, live-stream conceit conceals most of the action, though there are enough gruesome, spindly arms and vehicular crashes to elevate Dashcam above its modest roots. Seriously, this movie is gruesome, and though it amounts to little beyond formula– Annie escapes her tormenters, takes a brief respite, and is attacked again, repeat a dozen times – it works in isolated vignettes. 

Dashcam is not a movie of subversion. What you’re promised is what you get. One of the worst people you’re likely to meet picks up a possessed stranger in a rideshare gambit and literal Hell ensues. Despite Rob Savage managing some genuinely impressive directorial feats, the narrative itself is so frustratingly ugly and irritating, it takes Dashcam’s wheel and drives it straight into a tree. It’s a repugnant crash, but a curious one. Good or bad, people will be talking about Dashcam. I’m not wont to believe that’s what the filmmakers wanted, but there’s always a chance– maybe this whole thing was one big joke at our expense. 

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