After watching Dashcam, I didn’t know what to think or how to feel at first. Then I went down the rabbit hole of reading what seemed like competitive reviews on either end of the spectrum. Rob Savage’s follow-up to the surprise hit of quarantine, Host, showcases some highly creative filmmaking techniques but also struggles to find the balance with its exceptionally polarizing lead character.
An obnoxious, small-time internet personality goes from LA to England, encroaches on the life of an old friend/former bandmate then steals his car and drags him along into the middle of a frantic night filled with increasing danger and insanity.
There’s no conversation to be had about this film that doesn’t include the polarizing main character, Annie Hardy, played by Annie Hardy. She loves her MAGA hat, her anti-vax stance, being hostile towards restaurant workers, and appropriating hip-hop culture. In summation, she’s basically the worst kind of “Karen” imaginable. With Director Rob Savage and co-writers/collaborators Jed Shepherd and Gemma Hurley being from the UK, I’d say the character choice was very much intentionally inflammatory. On the one hand, she is incredibly annoying and genuinely not a good person on screen. When I read comments from people saying they wanted her to die in the first 15-minutes, I totally get it. However, I have a lot of respect for that bold choice.
Hardy certainly isn’t your parents’ final girl and knowingly starting with an unlikeable protagonist is basically the opposite of horror 101, so you’ve gotta earn your way back from there and many viewers didn’t stick around to find out whether or not that happened. I can’t say that she ever turned the corner and became likable but as shit increasingly hits the fan, her “character” foundation isn’t at the forefront of the storytelling any longer and that makes her less unlikable. With everything going on as the film hits full speed, she doesn’t waver and her irritating nature becomes her biggest strength in an odd way. Hardy is very effective at being this caricature of herself and I will say that her performing the closing credits is arguably my favorite part of the film. And I should also say Amar Chadha-Patel was a good ballast for Hardy’s antics and made it a more accessible experience.
Looking back at Host, that style came from necessity and it resonated with people for that reason. Very little of this new film actually takes place from the perspective of the “dashcam”, it’s mostly a handheld-found-footage presentation, and with that comes a long history of other films that have used that approach, for better or for worse. While it does necessitate a creative approach to the visuals, it also walks a tight rope between artistic ingenuity and gimmick.
Savage & Co. clearly had a lot of fun coming up with staging the shots and the visual techniques are well-executed. However, the vast majority of those inventive shots are predicated on jump scares. That’s low-hanging fruit and the exact opposite of what made Host work.
What makes something scary is anticipation, not just spamming things quickly in front of the camera. In fairness, it isn’t all jump scares, but the handheld method is frantic something of a detraction to the sort of fear-building that you’d think the movie was going for. I know the filmmakers know this and, for that reason, I am going to say that this isn’t actually a horror film despite the marketing. Sure, it’s very creepy and intense, and it uses a bunch of genre-specific elements but I was never scared. Rationally, it’s a parody of the found-footage horror genre. It just was also made by talented horror filmmakers who know, respect and understand the intricacies of the genre. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining though. Once things start rolling, there’s a snowball effect and things get increasingly wild as the movie goes on. Like, very insanely will and that part is a lot of fun.
Ultimately, I don’t know if you get any satisfactory explanation for what’s going on on-screen. There is a lot of subtext because the main character isn’t particularly interested in the why of the situation, just the how to survive it part. The finale does do the trick in terms of putting the exclamation point on the story but also isn’t big on details. In reading more about it, Savage does explain the story-building and why certain choices were made but he acknowledges that there’s no real exposition about it during the film.
Had I given up during the part of the film that was most irritating in the beginning, I would have never made it to the part that was rewarding (similar in that way to Malignant in that way). I have seen reviews on opposite sides of the spectrum and I would say the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Recommendation: See it for its polarizing nature and unique character challenges and you be the judge. It’s a more than affordable VOD rental for most and it’s only an hour and twelve minutes. Fans of the horror genre should get a kick out of the small things while the average audience probably won’t like it so much.
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