DRIVEN ROUND THE BEND
Director: Rob Savage
Screenplay: Rob Savage, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd
Starring: Annie Hardy, Amar Chadha-Patel, Angela Enahoro
Review: David Stephens
Here's an amusing and genuine statement given by a major cinema chain in the UK (who shall remain nameless): "Our decision not to screen DASHCAM was informed purely by the commercial conditions not being viable". This was (allegedly) in response to a cinemagoer enquiring as to why their advance booking for the film had been cancelled and (allegedly again) told: "due to the contents of the movie, which may offend our audience". All "good publicity" for the film, of course, which is now available on UK VOD platforms, seeming to have been released without people stampeding through the streets with pitchforks and burning torches. Critics at the London Film Festival (where it premiered) admittedly described it as "polarising". Marmite movie, ahoy then. A follow-up to the excellent Covid/FF cult hit Host from Rob Savage; it stars US musician Annie Hardy who plays an exaggerated version of herself in the lead role.
Annie Hardy, former lead singer and songwriter of Giant Drag (genuinely), is in the middle of the peak Covid lockdown in the US. She decides to travel to the UK, meet her old band buddy Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel), and get away from the "bullshit". At this time, she is maintaining an online presence with her "BandCar", which is "the best live improvised music show broadcast from a moving vehicle. Yup, this is the excuse for the constant streaming, where the filming is mostly done by an iPhone. She packs her MAGA cap and flies to Blighty to perform some overseas broadcasting. She pisses off everybody within touching distance within 24hours and steals a car to stave off the boredom. This leads to her acquiring an unlikely passenger and everything going to hell very quickly indeed. Luckily, she's still filming for her faithful audience.
Far from the ingenuity and creepiness of Host, this is a mad and messy ghost train of a film. It feels like a cross between Rec, The Visit, and several other well-known found-footage excursions… and not necessarily in a good way. The actual setup and incidents that Annie encounters during her journey hold a soupcon of spookiness and little of Lovecraft. Unfortunately, the genre elements are severely compromised by (at least) two factors in a major way. First off, google the works, words, and wisdom of Annie Hardy before watching because that is going to be a BIG influence on how much you enjoy Dashcam. Whilst she is playing a (hopefully) extremely exaggerated version of herself, she is simply the most toxically annoying and wilfully unfunny protagonist to lead a horror film for some time. You get annoyed by her shenanigans, whether she's roasting her viewers, spouting anti-vax bollocks, or smacking sputum over her friend's face. Even in life-threatening situations, she makes quips about anal prolapses and exclaims "shit on my balls" about twenty-three times.
All of that (and the MAGA and "Black Lives Matter" references) are there to presumably get a rise out of people and satirise some of the right-way guff that was prevalent during lockdowns. But it never stops, and it just gets to the point that you look forward to the jump scares just to make characters shut up. Check out the car-crash freestyle for reference. This isn't helped by the "amusing" inclusion of the on-screen comments, which consists of the usual trash talk that comes from the online community, which is either vacuous, random ("Elijah Wood brought me here"), or offensive. The continuous scrolling genuinely distracts from the increasingly weird incidents being filmed. This is actually acknowledged because they disappear during important moments when the "feed goes offline".
Those two factors are enough to affect your enjoyment of the crazy-arse escalation around Annie. The footage is also shaky-cam wildness maxed up to eleven, with some of the events (intentionally and unintentionally) being hard to follow in the dark locations. Having said that, there are occasional moments of greatness that stand out as being particularly good examples of FF horror. For your consideration, there is the red-lit silhouette chasing the car, the steady focus on a backseat passenger as they vomit blood, and the supernatural manipulation of a vehicle. The underplayed elements are quite cool, such as a character's age and some hints at creature features.
At the end of the day, though, it's likely to have attracted controversy due to the politics and behaviour of the lead character rather than the frenetic splat-stick that roars into motion at the midway mark. Here's a thought to leave you with. In a 1-hour and 17-minute film, over 8 minutes of the end credits are devoted to Annie roasting the crew members as their names scroll up the screen. Because of that tone and the raucous splat-stick elements, it only really works when viewed together with an audience that has access to a free bar. Otherwise. Somewhat disappointing and not a patch on Host.