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TIFF 2021: Dashcam Review

I’ve watched way too many found-footage movies despite the genre’s sketchy record of pumping out garbage. More times than not, these films leave me wanting. And more often than I’d like to admit, they leave me feeling like I wasted 80 minutes of my life.

Here’s the problem: anybody with a cellphone and a flashlight can produce a found-footage movie. Sure, found-footage movies are be cheap to shoot, but they still require the core components of filmmaking—a story, strong characters, and an effective command of cinematic language.

Last year during quarantine, director Rob Savage shot and released a found-footage horror movie that took place entirely over Zoom. His movie, Host, wasn’t just a great horror flick; it was one of my favourite movies of the year.

Host works so well because it doesn’t solely rely on the found-footage gimmick. Host features strong performances, a solid story, and a compelling mystery. It also does an excellent job of building tension and dread right up until the credits. Host is a great horror movie told through the found-footage format.

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Savage’s latest found-footage horror movie Dashcam takes everything that worked in Host and flushes it down the toilet. Dashcam offers 77 minutes worth of the genre’s most grating cliches, which will test even the patience of found-footage movie apologists.

Annie (Annie Hardy) is a live-streamer, s#itty musician, and even s#ittier human being. She hosts her show BandCar while driving around Los Angeles and rapping like your drunk uncle at karaoke. Tired of virtue-signaling, mask-wearing libs, Annie takes her trash-person brand overseas to the U.K.

After arriving on the other side of the pond, Annie steals her friend’s car and accepts a food delivery app order just for the lolz. Annie shows up at a creepy restaurant where she’s offered a wad of cash to take a sickly woman to some mystery destination. But that easy money isn’t so easy after all when Annie’s human Uber-order brings her face-to-face with a dark supernatural force.

Annie is a terrible person. I mean the absolute worst. I get that the film’s writers Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, and Jed Shepherd, are satirizing obnoxious American blowhards. The character was crafted to be awful, but she’s still a lot to deal with for an entire film. Having Annie as the film’s protagonist is like being forced into an 80-minute Zoom call with a Twitter troll.

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Dashcam is hard to watch. And not because of the annoying characters, over-the-top violence, or graphic depiction of a woman defecating. Dashcam falls victim to the found-footage genre’s original sin: shaky camera work. When the action turns frantic, Dashcam’s camera loses focus and zips around in an unwatchable frenzy for unbearable stretches.

I watched the movie on a giant screen in a dark room and had to stop and turn on the lights. Not out of fear, but because of my upset stomach. I’m not even prone to motion sickness, but Dashcam messed with my equilibrium. Watching this movie in a theatre on a massive screen is a recipe for disaster.

The jittery camera work isn’t the only problem. Dashcam has serious pacing issues. There are long stretches where nothing happens before a shock comes out of nowhere. I understand this is a horror movie, and we’re here for the scares. But the scary moments feel random and poorly crafted.

There is often no buildup and no mounting tension before a scare hits. They just arrive out of nowhere. It’s the difference between a bomb suddenly going off and knowing a bomb is ticking away and about to explode. Seeing someone plant a bomb escalates tension. Having the bomb randomly explode is just jarring, which is too often the case in this movie.

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Look, I’m willing to overlook all these issues if a movie delivers the goods in some other way. That may entail a gripping story, a memorable hero, or a climax that blows me away. But Dashcam doesn’t offer anything weighty enough to balance the scales. Instead it relies on the genre’s worst clichés while delivering ho-hum thrills.

Dashcam does have a few decent moments, but they’re few and far between. This movie would function better as a 20-minute short. It’s not like those extra 60 minutes goes toward world building or character development.

Dashcam is a disorienting, repetitive, tedious mess, and yet, nowhere close to the worst this genre has to offer.

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