H4Z4RD Review: Dimitri Vegas Has A Very Bad Day Behind The Wheel [Fantastic Fest]

Jonas Govaerts unleashes his second directorial feature, "H4Z4RD," almost a decade after 2014's obscenely undervalued "Cub." He's been busy as a prolific music video director — roughy 20 or so credits between releases — which speaks to the breakneck style of auto-thriller "H4Z4RD." Conceptually, it mimics "Wheelman," as the camera stays within our protagonist's pimped-out whip, with the 2000s action-destruction zaniness of "Crank" with some of "Titane" and "Cujo" thrown in for good measure. It's combustibly chaotic, high-octane, and someone's stripped the narrative brakes too. Whether that's at an advantage or detriment will be made clear for audiences relatively early into Govaerts' car-crunching cinema.

Dimitri 'Vegas' Thivaios — yes, the famous Belgian-Greek DJ — stars as Noah Hazard, a world-class driver who loves his daughter Zita (Mila Rooms), his girlfriend Leah (Jennifer Heylen), and most importantly, his super-fly roadster. Cinematography pours over the immaculately cleaned car's interior, from squeaky leather seats and upgraded speaker systems to digital integrations on the console screen. After dropping Zita at school, Noah picks up his cousin Carlos (Jeroen Perceval) for a reunion after three years in prison. Carlos asks for a simple favor that involves a quickie stop, a drop-off, and some patience, but the ex-con's falling back into illegal schemes threatens to destroy everything that Noah holds dear in his life.

Writer Trent Haaga is no stranger to erratic genre cinema with screenplay credits like "68 Kill," 'Chop," and "Cheap Thrills." Imagine far more eccentric Flemish touches, whatever you think about the introduction above. Thivaios is playing the straight man to Jeroen Perceval's hyper-active criminal, who introduces unpredictable Carlos with a sexually explicit rap that supposedly floored fellow inmates (Noah... listens). Dynamic chemistry quickly establishes as Noah finds himself answering for Carlos' stupidity and mistakes, which becomes their back-and-forth banter as Noah's ride finds itself riddled with bullet holes. Haaga doesn't neglect the buddy-comedy possibilities of crass convict Carlos and cleaning-up-his-act Noah, nor does "H4Z4RD" ignore the dramatic tension spurred by Noah's awful day thanks to Carlos.

H4Z4RD loves being an action flick that has to navigate its automotive focus'

"H4Z4RD" distances itself from modern action entertainment because there are no boundaries that Govaerts' film is afraid to soar over, like the Duke boys taking flight. A botched suburban robbery leads to gory animal attacks, grenade explosions, hardcore Mechanophilia, and you'll see that "Titane" ain't got nothing on "H4ZARD." As greasy lackeys with Hitler mustaches meet appropriate violence and Noah donut-turns on dimes to avoid pursuers, Haaga's midnighter sensibilities keep audiences entranced by a grab-bag of sequences that challenge what we believe could happen next. Noah's hardly contained to the rules of the road as he chases Gecko drug pushers through crowded parks, up elevators, and down walkway tunnels. There's an overall jaw-slack absurdity to it all, accompanied by excitement that defies speed limits. From psychedelic dope hallucinations that turn basketballs into cartoon creatures to lady assassins blasting pistol rounds through Noah's exterior, "H4Z4RD" loves being an action flick that has to navigate its automotive focus.

Dries Delputte accepts the challenge of rigging cinematography as if we're watching everything from the car's "eyes," but not like a static dashcam. When Noah exits to snap Carlos from his drug trance outside the vehicle, we watch like we're still sitting in the back seat. There's an element of visual intrigue as Delputte treats Noah's cruiser like a roller coaster train, but also randomness as the camera can look out any port of the car. From behind the headlight covering, or even out of a driver's side mirror that snaps and flies behind the car, pointed at its trunk so we can watch Noah confront a foe. There's rule-making and rule-breaking with equal lawlessness as "H4Z4RD" makes things harder on itself, rising to the cinematic predicament of delivering spectacle sensations while strapped behind seatbelts. It's not an achievement I can say is flawless, but it adds another aspect to "H4Z4RD" that only cements its uniqueness.

In many ways, "H4Z4RD" reminds me of the lockbox thriller "4x4" that roughly does "Saw" but in an SUV. Both films could easily be gimmicks that wear thin after a few sequences, but neither do. "H4Z4RD" succeeds because there's a relentlessness to its adrenalized mechanical thrills (nightclub music tracks add bass-thumpin' vibes). Dimitri Thivaios grounds "H4Z4RD" as a blood-covered father confronting horned-up security guards hellbent on tailpipe metal and underworld villains to save his daughter. Jeroen Perceval is the wacko degenerate who's easy to laugh at as a wannabe gangster and criminal buffoon without reasonable care. 

"H4Z4RD" is a full-throttle midnighter that barely runs out of gas, and when it does sputter, corrects its course with another out-of-bounds checkpoint — a gonzo blood-and-thugs grand prix with minimal pit stops.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10