starring Annie Hardy, Amar Chadha-Patel, Angela Enahoro
written by Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd
directed by Rob Savage
by Bill Chambers Rob Savage's Host dared to suggest our new digital fortresses were inadequate shield against the old insecurities and became a cultural phenomenon as a result. There had been movies like it (Unfriended and its sequel, for instance), but the pandemic subtext gave its core premise--a haunted Zoom call--mass appeal, and having the actors play "themselves" à la Blair Witch added a veneer of documentary credibility. With Dash Cam, his much-anticipated follow-up (and his first film for horror factory Blumhouse), Savage again sets things against the backdrop of COVID and continues the neo-realist conceit of giving the lead the name of the actress playing her, but he's in murkier conceptual territory here, tipped off by the early and frequent abandonment of the titular gimmick. Real-life musician Annie Hardy, from the band Giant Drag, stars as a version of herself, seemingly the worst version of herself (though I gather her online persona is somewhat controversial), an MC who hosts BandCar, "the Internet's #1 Live Improvised Music Show Broadcast from a Moving Vehicle." At the beginning of the film, Annie abandons her L.A. apartment and feline roommate for an extended stay in England with former bandmate Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel). Boarding the plane, she turns out to be the type to let their mask droop below their nose. It's the first real hint of an impulse to troll that is reflexive bordering on pathological and seems to particularly flare up around the socially conscious or anyone who tells her "no." In the case of Stretch, these are one and the same, and after she manages to alienate him completely, she steals his car and looks for trouble in London (which is really as simple as not wearing a mask), broadcasting it all for the amusement of her followers and sometimes their tips.
Annie wanders into a vacant restaurant and samples some of the stale fries and "COVID eggs." (Earlier in the film, she told the cat that they're both feral; when people tell you who they are, believe them.) The proprietor materializes and is in a bind: can Annie drop something off for her? The delivery isn't a food order, however, but rather Angela, a catatonic, elderly Black woman with an Ariana Grande tattoo on her thigh. Dash Cam only gets more gonzo from there, though as the freakshow intensifies, the odds of a gratifying resolution decrease in turn. Blame a P.O.V. that's hardwired to a self-involved protagonist: As much as Annie loves poking bears, she's intellectually incurious. It did occur to me that Dash Cam could be a satire of not just found-footage films but also modern attitudes towards horror and its conventions. Can we pledge allegiance to a Final Girl who's the prototypical Ugly American you'd actually want to see slaughtered in a movie like this? (There's a moment between shit hitting the fan where Annie pauses to tenderly pet a Trump bobblehead. One mask may slip but her other one never does.) What if social-media cynicism has broken our ability to be scared? During some of the money shots, Annie's subscribers provide colour commentary in comment bubbles that scroll up the left side of the screen. The jaded responses to Angela's paranormal behaviour are brutal and hilarious, but then you remember these are not real people, they're the filmmakers coming up with this stuff after the fact, making the targets of their snark the audience, the genre, the film itself. Dash Cam becomes a nearly indecipherable meta sandwich that closes with a monotonous credits sequence in which Annie, like a nightmare Sister Carol, spins vulgar rhymes from the cast and crew's names, definitively shattering any spell the movie has cast. If I may offer Savage and his returning Host co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd a piece of unsolicited advice: log out. PROGRAMME: MIDNIGHT MADNESS