In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, film production all but ceased, with creatives from around the world having to find alternative ways to get their artistic message heard by the world. Those who could adapt were the ones that thrived, with Bo Burnham finding Emmy-award-winning success with his feature-length special Inside, and filmmaker Rob Savage taking the horror market by storm with his quarantine-made flick Host.
Directing actors remotely, instructing them how to set up their own cameras, lighting and stunts, Savage’s techniques were robust and original, with the final film being something of a found footage revival for a subgenre that had so long craved innovation. Two years later and the Wrexham-born horror pragmatist is back with Dashcam, a found footage that makes similar strides forward as his previous feature.
Shot, for the most part, on the titular camera lens of the dashcam of a car, Savage’s story is once again a simple one, following an arrogant live-streamer named Annie (Annie Hardy), who travels to England and proceeds to disrupt the life of her old friend, stealing his car after an argument and joyriding it around the unnamed city’s outskirts. Entering a closed takeaway she stumbles into a woman desperate for assistance, asking Annie to take an elderly woman donning a face mask to a location across town, offering her cash in return.
Annie, a vocal anti-masker, doesn’t take kindly to the mute woman whom she places in the backseat of her car, particularly after she begins acting strangely towards her, violently lashing out with impossible force. Assisted by her reluctant university friend who tracks Annie down through her ongoing livestream, the two must attempt to survive against a woman whose true power is terrifyingly ambiguous.
As a near 24/7 vlogger and all-around entertainer, Annie is an insufferable lead character, spouting the nonsense of Trump’s America to her invisible online fans who are represented only by the flurry of comments that tick along the side of the screen throughout the film. An excellent visual feature that allows from the respite of Annie’s constant preaching or whiney musical numbers, Savage’s characterisation of his lead is curious, considering that each and every moment we are with her we are praying for her demise.
Yet, somehow, through the framework of the constant livestream she becomes quite the authentic lead, with her wild ramblings feeling akin to the idiotic conversations one would hear on Joe Rogan’s podcasts. Though you listen to it through squinted eyes and gritted teeth, by the end of the film she certainly feels like exactly the kind of individual who would find herself in such a farcical situation.
Truly, her enigmatic character is the only real drawback of the film itself, forcing an element of comedy into a film that didn’t need such relief at all.
Clearly, a director finely attuned to the careful nuances of the horror genre, Rob Savage proves with his second feature film that his 2020 effort was no fluke. Knowing exactly how long to hold a shot and when to cut, there are few directors in the contemporary genre with a better understanding of just how to terrify your audience than the Welsh maestro. Framing several memorable scenes that won’t be erased from memory anytime soon, Savage is great at bottling the uncanny fears of life and using them to his advantage.
Like a roller coaster virtual reality ride, Savage creates a totally unexpected package of horror that lasts little more than an hour. Despite its short runtime, however, Savage somehow squeezes in so much creativity, sculpting a film that suggests a wider universe that craves to be explored but is all the better for not being explained at all.