Dashcam Review: The Worst Person On Earth Screams Over Shaky Found Footage In This Grating Horror Movie [TIFF 2021]

Rob Savage helmed the excellent pandemic horror film "Host," which followed a group of friends having a seance during a Zoom call in the middle of lockdown. It was an ingenious, captivating, and genuinely creepy experience, and I very much enjoyed it. So it brings me no pleasure to say that Savage's latest pandemic-set horror flick, "Dashcam," is downright painful to watch. 

"Dashcam" invites us to spend a full hour with one of the worst characters ever captured on a screen; a nails-on-chalkboard individual who shrieks and freestyle raps her way through a series of increasingly gruesome scenarios that owe a debt to the original "The Evil Dead." To be fair, the character is supposed to be awful, annoying, and aggravating. But holy crap, there's only so much of this individual that we should be forced to endure. Worse, it's unclear if "Dashcam" seems to realize how awful she is. Yes, multiple characters point out her terribleness, but the film continues to keep her front and center, cracking "jokes" that are awful across the board. By the time the credits roll, I got the impression that "Dashcam" wanted us to actually root for this monster, and that's more terrifying than anything going on in the story.

As "Dashcam" kicks off, we meet Annie Hardy (played by Annie Hardy, who I guess is playing a cartoonishly evil version of herself?), host of the live streaming show "Band Car." The premise: she drives around LA, asks her audience to suggests words, and then she freestyles. It's awful. The moment this character began talking I sank in my chair, horrified at the idea of spending a full movie listening to her horrendous singing and her devastatingly unfunny humor. Here's an example: she yells "S**t on my balls!" over and over again. Hilarious! I suppose Hardy deserves some credit here, because if she is indeed playing a part and nothing like the character on screen, she's turning in a good – albeit grating – performance. The Annie in "Dashcam" is most likely a sociopath; a heap of garbage disguised as a human being who thinks COVID-19 is a hoax, proudly wears a MAGA hat, and goes out of her way to antagonize people. 

Are Savage and credited co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd (Savage introduced the movie by saying it didn't actually have a script and the cast improvised) sending up the concept of the ugly American? I have no complaints there – Americans are awful! But again: it remains unclear just how we're supposed to interpret Annie. I'm not saying "Dashcam" needed to flash the words THIS IS A HORRIBLE PERSON across the screen over and over again, but I just can't shake the notion that the movie really wants us to find her antics funny in a macabre way. 

Sick of America, Annie jets off to England to reunite with her old bandmate Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel), who now works as a delivery driver. We get the sense that she didn't even tell him she was coming, because she is the worst human being on the planet. Annie proceeds to make Stretch's life a living hell, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend (Jemma Moore). Stretch himself seems oddly accepting of Annie and her insane stream of consciousness way of constantly riffing on everything and turning it into something scatological, at least at first. But even Stretch's limits will soon be put to the test.  

All of this is shot from the POV of Annie's phone, which means the camera is constantly swooping around and never sitting still. Shaky camera work became kind of a staple of found footage horror in the wake of "The Blair Witch Project," but the shakiness on display in "Dashcam" runs headfirst into incomprehensible territory. There are entire stretches of the film where we can't see anything, just blurry imagery as Annie screams shrill nonsense off camera. 

Continuing her streak of being putrid, Annie steals Stretch's car and his cellphone. She then takes it upon herself to pick up one of Stretch's food orders, and here is where "Dashcam" almost starts to get interesting. Almost. 

Midnight Audiences Might Like This

When Annie arrives at the restaurant she was sent to (or rather, the restaurant that Stretch was sent to), she finds it closed, and seemingly empty. But then someone appears; a nervous woman who offers Annie extra money if she'll transport her friend Angela (Angela Enahoro) to a second location. Angela is elderly, the lower half of her face covered in a mask. She seems dazed and uncommunicative, and possibly ill. In other words, the last person on Earth this woman should be with right now is Annie. 

Things go downhill fast. Angela's condition begins to deteriorate, which results in some gross shots of unpleasant bodily fluid. But Angela's sickness isn't the typical type of illness. First, she begins to bleed from her mouth. Then she starts attacking people. And if that weren't enough, she's soon levitating, too. Eventually, Stretch shows up to reclaim his car, and he gets drawn into Annie's misadventure. It's here where "Dashcam" becomes unrelenting, throwing Annie and Stretch into one loud, jarring, painful situation after another. I'm not a sadist, but I suppose there's some fun to be had in watching the horrendous Annie be terrorized. But she never comes across as if she's really in peril. She keeps on cracking her jokes, and she is also seemingly indestructible, going through several violent car crashes and other harmful situations and walking away more or less unscathed. 

The back half of the film – which is mercifully short at 77 minutes, although it feels twice as long – is far more interesting than the first. Savage and company create a vague but interesting mythology surrounding some sort of supernatural force. The vagueness might frustrate some, but I liked the way that the film provides us with just enough information to take a guess at what's going on, without ever really spelling things out. 

This half of the movie is the more horror-heavy, with Savage unleashing torrents of Sam Raimi-like gore, much of it flying directly at the camera (which holds up remarkably well; must have a great OtterBox case or something). But even this promising material wears thin. We can't really see any of it, for one. And for another, it grows tedious and repetitive. Annie and Stretch run or drive to one location, encounter something scary, scream and run away, and then end up somewhere new where they do the same thing all over again. They eventually stumble into an empty amusement park, and while that makes for a great setting, it doesn't add much. 

The abundance of gore and shock moments will probably be enough for midnight audiences (I saw the film with the TIFF Midnight Madness crowd, who seemed to be enjoying everything as I sat there stunned and wondering when this was going to end), but the entire experience is frustrating because I know Savage and company can do so much better. "Host" was something truly special, while "Dashcam" is the type of experience you regret. As social commentary, it's weak. As a comedy, it's unfunny. As a horror movie, it's not very scary. 

/Film Rating: 2 out of 10