Sooner or later, once we look again on the cinema from the COVID epidemic, there shall be a particular place reserved for Rob Savage’s “Host.” The supernatural thriller, conceived and produced and launched throughout lockdown, instructed the story of a seance carried out over a pleasant Zoom name, and the way one individual’s irresponsibility doomed everybody they knew. “Host” keyed into probably the most up to date anxieties conceivable and it did so with class, cleverness, and aplomb. It was among the best movies of 2020.
Savage is again one yr later with a brand new COVID nightmare referred to as “Dashcam,” a movie that additionally takes place solely on a digital display screen — the protagonist’s cellphone — and in addition takes place smack dab in the midst of the pandemic. However this time, the protagonist, a model of Big Drag songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Annie Hardy (performed by Hardy herself), is among the worst human beings on the web. It’s a daring alternative. However not essentially a very good one.
“Dashcam” finds Hardy starring in a livestream referred to as “Band Automotive,” the so-called “Web’s #1 dwell improvised music present broadcast from a transferring car.” Mainly, she drives round Los Angeles with a beatbox, making up rhymes primarily based on random phrases chosen by her many followers, whose feedback fill the underside lefthand nook of the display screen, and who act because the movie’s up to date Greek refrain. They continuously comment on the motion, make enjoyable of the individuals on display screen, reply in both terror or skepticism when one thing scary occurs, and one time — in a noteworthy pique of existentialism — bemoan that “Nobody listens to us.”
Annie packs up her MAGA hat, says goodbye to her cat, and flies off to England to stick with her outdated bandmate Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel, “The Third Day”) and his new girlfriend, solely to find that being shrill, self-centered and insulting — to not point out going full “Karen” for refusing to put on a masks in eating places — isn’t as cool because it was once, at the least to not individuals IRL.
So, all the time livecasting, Annie steals Stretch’s automobile, decides to do a few of his deliveries, and winds up getting requested (actually randomly, for no motive that ever is smart) to move an outdated woman named Angela (Angela Enahoro) to an tackle in change for a wad of cash. However Angela isn’t altogether wholesome: she’s excreting disturbing fluids, she’s not capable of converse, and fairly quickly she’s exhibiting unusual supernatural skills which threaten Annie, Stretch, and everybody and all the pieces else Annie touches.
Hardy acts like she’s making an attempt to get kicked out of theater, and presumably even the film. She’s undeniably humorous even at her worst. As soon as, whereas in a match of terror, desperately making an attempt to flee one thing terrible, she will be able to’t assist however pause and play with a Donald Trump bobblehead, and that’s a hoot. However she’s additionally merciless to everybody she meets, even once they’re good to her, and fully incapable of self-reflection or empathy. Having a cat is her solely redeemable high quality and even then, it’s not solely clear whether or not she’s requested anybody to handle it whereas she’s abroad. One will get the distinct impression that poor creature may need to fend for itself.
The issue with making the protagonist of your horror film an unlikable human being is that, on the threat of being redundant, the protagonist of your horror film is an unlikable human being. Some may discover Hardy’s character an amusing prepare wreck, however your mileage will definitely fluctuate. To the remainder of us, she’s merely troublesome to take care of for even the movie’s skimpy 77-minute working time. In lots of horror films, she’d be the character who’d both die first or die late within the movie simply to allow them to make life tougher for the actual heroes earlier than assembly their third-act, thematically-approved demise.
As an alternative, right here we’re, trapped with Annie the entire time. She nonetheless makes all the pieces worse for everyone, particularly — though the film appears unwilling to debate with this instantly, as a plot level or perhaps a theme — all of the individuals of shade she encounters. Annie will not be invulnerable to the movie’s violence, however she will get to inflict, or at the least callously movie, or not directly trigger, the struggling of so many seemingly undeserving folks that if the movie didn’t have a degree to make, it will be onerous to suggest it.
Which is why it’s so extremely irritating that, on the finish of the day, “Dashcam” really doesn’t appear to have a lot of a degree to make. It’s a imply little joke of a horror film, one the place the worst individuals appear to dwell longest and endure no penalties, and if that’s what “Dashcam” has to say about life itself then honest sufficient, nevertheless it’s not introduced with cleverness or pointed satire. Savage’s movie simply retains digging a gap and in some way it by no means reaches any depth.
What “Dashcam” can boast, nevertheless, is a plethora of Rob Savage’s found-footage trickery. The visible results in “Host” had been much less ubiquitous than they’re in his follow-up, however they had been genuinely spectacular given Savage’s apparent sensible limitations. He’s clearly acquired a much bigger funds for “Dashcam,” and he’s dedicated to developing with extra VFX gags and elaborate automobile crashes. At their greatest, these sequences are delirious and nerve-jangling. And even at their worst, they’re nonetheless kinda neat.
There’s sure to be an viewers for a mean-spirited romp like “Dashcam,” and possibly they’ll discover it and possibly they’ll get one thing significant out of it. Or possibly they’ll simply giggle at Annie Hardy’s pervasive and artistic cursing and, just like the movie’s on-screen commenters, roll their eyes on the struggling she inflicts after which get a kick out of the movie’s whimsically self-aware closing credit that are, frankly, the movie’s better part.
Or possibly they’ll want Savage’s follow-up to “Host” was rather less involved about being in your face, and much more all for being fascinating.
“Dashcam” makes its world premiere on the 2021 Toronto Worldwide Movie Pageant.