Dashcam: TIFF 2021 Review

Year: 2021
Runtime: 77 Minutes
Director: Rob Savage
Writer: Rob Savage, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd
Stars: Annie Hardy, Amar Chadha-Patel

Rob Savage’s “Host”(2020) was one of the biggest breakout films of 2020 as it showcased a strong horror story and execution perfectly fitting for the pandemic. Now, Savage returns with another film shot during the pandemic that blends social media monsters with a more mysterious, blood-hungry monster.

It’s been interesting to see the found-footage subgenre transition into the digital streaming age through films like “Unfriended”(2014), “Spree”(2020), “Searching”(2018), and now both of Savage’s films. Where found-footage films recap a horrifying experience in a seemingly realistic way, these new streamer horror films, that personally we should call “screamers” (just give it a chance), bring viewers more into the moment and create a more organic seemingly real-time experience. With “Dashcam” focusing on an outrageous streamer’s “escape” from the pandemic taking a gruesome, twisted turn, Savage fills the frame in a way that builds on the experience and story.

The comment section that sprawls from the bottom left of the screen adds more perspective to moments and possibly even warrants a second viewing just to see the opinions and story that’s being written out of the corner of your eye. It’s something that never takes away from the center action but has enough dark hilarity and horror to peer into the corner to see how the viewers are reacting. It’s also interesting to see how the view count increases as things get wilder and emoji reactions subtly pop up in the bottom right corner of the screen. Even having the camera switch between vertical and horizontal views creates this more engaging realism that keeps you visually hooked on what outrageous conservative streamer Annie (Annie Hardy) is doing.

With Annie’s torrent behavior and views, its tough to figure out if Savage is creating a caricature of an overly dedicated anti-masker or trying to make some kind of satire. She’s basically a mix of a heightened Trump supporter you’d see Jordan Klepper interviewing for “The Daily Show” and the most volatile social influencer you could imagine. Now, this obviously doesn’t make her the most enjoyable character to be around as she obnoxiously berates anyone’s liberal agenda and goes back to her schtick even after seeing some horrifying stuff. It would’ve been nice to maybe have some kind of likeable quality to Annie or some kind of satirical satisfaction where this personality gets broken down or she’s forced to become real on stream. Like I said, it’s tough to figure out what Savage is doing with this character since there’s no real arc or growth she goes through and putting this “in your face” personality as the protagonist isn’t the most enjoyable at times.

Sometimes though, there are some funny moments that stem from Hardy’s dedicated performance. It’s kind of impressive to see Hardy’s musical ability transition well to culturally appropriated raps fitting for Alice’s personality and purpose in streaming and she does accurately portray the feel of videos where anti-maskers and vaxxers berate business owners for their COVID policies. Her profanity ridden rants and screams can be hit or miss though. Sometimes they can add some light-hearted, relatable levity to scary situations, other times it can just ruin the moment. Annie is definitely far from being a likeable horror protagonist and Savage definitely misses the opportunity for a clearer satirical character arc, but Hardy at least adds some enjoyable caricature to Annie.

Where Savage doesn’t miss the mark though is in the scares and suspense he provides throughout “Dashcam” making it an intense, suspenseful thrill ride. After Annie picks up a mysterious mute stranger after having a falling out with her former bandmate Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel), the film turns into an unpredictable sprint for survival that gets absolutely insane. “Dashcam” is at its best when it eases you in to feeling comfortable and safe, only to suddenly throw you back into a fast-paced chase against an unsuspecting foe. The big gory turns catch you completely off-guard and look amazing for the low-budget film this is, the monsters that eventually come out are creepy as hell, and you’re constantly left on your toes as to where things are going to go and what the true intentions and motivations of some characters really are. Savage makes “Dashcam” an absolute nerve-shredder from start to finish and provides some of the most effective jump scares to make the film full of great scares. It’s almost like a slice of horror you’d find in the “V/H/S” series and that’s a huge compliment considering the great talent and inventive horror we’ve seen come out of that crew.

“Dashcam” is a very good follow-up for Savage that continues to show his emerging vision within the horror genre and those looking for a tense, endlessly thrilling horror ride will be more than satisfied by what “Dashcam” provides.

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