TIFF 2020: ‘DASHCAM’ is Chaotic Cringe

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DASHCAM - But Why Tho

DASHCAM is the latest found footage horror film from writer-director Rob Savage, who hit audiences hard with his Shudder Original Host. Now, he’s taking something more organic for a spin and pushing Blair Witch Project adlib methods with a film fit for a streaming generation. In addition to Savage and the improvization, Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd co-wrote the screenplay.

DASHCAM happens entirely through Annie’s live stream. A vlogger who hosts an improv music show, she travels to the U.K. from the U.S. in hopes of leaving behind some lockdown conditions, because well, she’s awful. While she looks to stay with her friend Stretch, her identity as an awful human. She has dangerous and careless beliefs and only knows how to be selfish. All of which leads Annie to be pushed out of her friend’s home and one of the most caustic of temper tantrums. She steals a car and winds up being propelled into a nightmare when she picks up an old woman who is acting strangely.

What happens next is a chaotic mess that spirals manically from scene to scene with no purpose other than Annie’s cringe commentary. As the horror gets worse for the characters, the viewers go up in the right hand corner of the screen. As everything spins out from  making awful jokes about the pandemic, liberals, and even Black Lives Matter, it becomes more unhinged as we move to the English countryside. However, it has to be said that the scares are amazingly directed. Jump scares and more take you by surprise but they end up being nearly completely undercut by the film’s humor.

Our lead character is insufferable. She’s the worst America has to offer and it makes for an extremely uncomfortable watch. DASHCAM was one of my most hyped films for the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and I don’t know how I felt about it once the credits rolled. I don’t know if it’s because I live in Texas where we’ve been struggling to get people to do the most basic public safety measures, but all of this was just hard to watch.

From the casual racism to the alt-right talking points, knowing that this was improvised makes it all the more frustrating to watch. This is largely due to the fact that I honestly can’t tell if our lead is meant to be satirical and having her terrorize an old woman in her backseat with her live streaming asshole antics is infuriating.

She’s a chaotic nexus that is just too hard to watch. There is toilet humor and cringe moments that are too much to take and add nearly nothing to the film. That said, when the scares start, they’re well shot and well-executed. But all of it is undercut by having a character this awful and using symbolism that in the US means very racist things makes the choice to have two Black women as the antagonists chilling and not in a good way.

As much as you think that Annie is being terrorized, she’s the one terrorizing the people around her and it makes the whole experience nearly impossible to sit through. And unfortunately, it impacts the film’s narrative. With a vile character that you can’t root for and optics that just don’t work, at just over an hour, it feels like it lasted for at least two.

Overall, DASHCAM isn’t bad, it’s just odd. It’s not a film that I can recommend widely as I did with Savage’s first film, Host. While that one looked at the fears that come into play in pandemic times through the lens of an experience we all have—Zoom calls— DASHCAM is just about a bad person being bad and leaving a chaotic mess behind her. The gore and the effects are phenomenal but they’re all hindered by a protagonist I don’t even know if I can hate properly. That said, if you think you can take an hour and change of a MAGA online troll terrorizing and then being terrorized with effects that would make Chronicle proud, then you should keep your eyes on DASHCAM. 

Oh. But don’t watch the credits. Just don’t.

DASHCAM had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

DASHCAM
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    Rating - 4.5/10
4.5/10

TL;DR

If you think you can take an hour and change of a MAGA online troll terrorizing and then being terrorized with effects that would make Chronicle proud, then you should keep your eyes on DASHCAM.