Home Reviews TIFF 2021: Is DASHCAM just trolling us?

TIFF 2021: Is DASHCAM just trolling us?

HOST director Rob Savage returns with a streamed footage film DASHCAM.

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Given the leaps in technology since a movie like Blair Witch came out, it makes sense that the “found footage” horror genre has been transformed into the streamed footage genre. One of the more well-regarded films on that list is director Rob Savage’s Host, a pandemic-set, low-budget horror film about a séance conducted via Zoom.

Savage is back to add another entry to this ever-evolving genre, this time with Dashcam, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Dashcam stars real-life musician and cult of personality Annie Hardy (we’ll get into that below), playing a character of the same name. Annie is a vlogger by trade and runs a show called Band Car, in which she takes viewer suggestions and incorporates them into live improvised musical renditions while driving around LA in her car. Because LA is dead due to COVID lockdowns, Annie decides to skip town and visit her old musician friend, Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel) in England.

Dashcam makes the bold decision to make Annie a completely unlikable protagonist. She dons a MAGA hat, calls people sheep for wearing masks and being afraid of COVID, and embodies the stereotypical viral Karen we’ve all seen screaming at strangers in grocery stores about how they’re not sick and need to open their eyes. It becomes clear Annie and Stretch haven’t seen each other in some time and do not share political values, however, when Annie arrives, and she finds a Black Lives Matter sign on Stretch’s window. A schism immediately begins to grow in the relationship.

Pre-scares, this is probably the most interesting dynamic Dashcam has to offer. Almost everyone knows at least one person who’s jumped off the deep end, politically speaking, over the last six years, and it’s hard not to resonate with the way Annie and Stretch both loathe one another’s present selves while occasionally slip into memories and inside jokes from better days. That on-and-off camaraderie quickly fades, however, when Annie blows up at a restaurant worker who asks her to don a mask. The two get into an argument that culminates with Stretch kicking Annie out of his house. Instead of leaving, though, Annie steals his keys and phone and decides to spend some time accepting Uber Eats-style delivery offers through Stretch’s phone. That decision takes her to a restaurant where a woman begs her to drive a mysterious and silent older woman to a specific location, and from there, all hell breaks loose.

Dashcam makes the live-streamed footage thing work, to a point. The livestream comments from viewers follow the movie for most of its running time and add a layer of humor and absurdity to the excursion – internet trolls arguing about whether they’re racist while a character is being stabbed to death, and so on. Unfortunately, what the stream feature adds in humor subtracts in scares of substance. It’s also incredibly difficult to follow along with the more action-packed moments of the film, which are mostly filled with shots of people’s shoes as they run or the camera spinning as it falls. I didn’t feel bored, but I also didn’t feel anything close to suspense throughout the film’s compact 96 minutes.

While I finished the film feeling like the ‘unlikable protagonist’ thing was a good choice, the moment I looked up the people involved, I felt the opposite. It’s difficult to parse whether Annie Hardy was giving the performance of a lifetime as the mean-spirited, COVID-denying character she plays, or if she’s just playing herself on camera. Hardy’s Twitter feed is filled with anti-vaccination, pro-Ivermectin, left-wingers-are-pedophiles lies. Is that really her, or is this a bit? A marketing-oriented, real-life inhabitation of the very extreme character she plays? Any benefit of the doubt you can give the film for being self-aware of the protagonist’s deeply harmful and selfish views is diminished by the fact that it’s also propping up the real-life version of this person, whether she’s demonstrating a trollish version of method acting or simply being herself. And if it’s the former: didn’t everyone learn from the Joaquin Phoenix days that the asshole method acting thing is the same thing as just being an asshole?

Dashcam skirts the line between a novel and comedic take on the found footage genre and a blurry, shaky-cam film that leaves you literally wondering what you just witnessed on the screen. If you delve deeper into the real-life personality the movie props up, it may also leave you figuratively wondering the same thing, too.

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