Movie Review ~ Dashcam

The Facts:

Synopsis:  Two friends live stream the most terrifying night of their lives on a horror-fueled road trip.
Stars: Annie Hardy, Angela Enahoro, Amar Chandha-Patel
Director: Rob Savage
Rated: R
Running Length: 77 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review:  When the pandemic was in full swing, independent filmmakers had to get creative if they wanted to continue to work without major studios’ backing and enhanced COVID measures. One of the best success stories to come out of this time was Host. This barely sixty-minute feature showed up on Shudder and quickly generated excellent word of mouth within its target genre audience and in the greater community. Savage made the story of a haunted Zoom séance look like it was all taking place on a computer screen (known as a ScreenLife film)…because that’s how actors shot it. With a small cast in charge of filming themselves and instructed on how to create many of their in-camera visual effects, director Rob Savage made one of the most genuinely scary films in quite a while. I watched the movie several times, and it retained its effective shrieks with each viewing. 

It was a bit surprising to me how quickly Savage has turned his next project in, and while Dashcam isn’t Savage’s second feature in a literal sense, it does have your typical sophomore stumbling blocks as a follow-up ScreenLife film. Released under the Blumhouse Productions banner, Savage has attracted interest from essential names in the business. However, his movie doesn’t have as commercial a feel as you might expect from this label. Right off the bat, there’s a challenge you’re going to face, and that’s with the leading lady. 

Going into the movie, I had no idea who Annie Hardy was. A California-born musician from the rock band Giant Drag, the 40-year-old was infamous for her quick (and profane) wit onstage and never pulling punches in interviews or online postings. While she’s playing a version of herself in Dashcam, viewers will have to decide whether they will be able to sit through sixty minutes with a character that can be severely grating most of the time. Little can be done to turn this version of Hardy off, not her friends and certainly not an unknown contagion turning ordinary people into raving monsters.

Let’s back up a moment.

In the film, Annie Hardy runs a popular online show from her car that viewers tune into to see her create a song from suggestions appearing in a chat box. While driving around the city, Hardy will draft foul-mouthed ditties that mostly have to do with body parts and fluids that amuse herself more than anyone. However, it’s rough right now as COVID rages through America. As an anti-vaxxer (supposedly like the real Hardy), she’s had enough of the government politics and decides a trip overseas to visit her old bandmate will clear her mind. Hardy isn’t in London long before Stretch (Amar Chandha-Patel) tires of her, and she takes off in his car for a UK version of her show. 

As she’s out, she makes a stop that proves to be unwise, picking up an elderly passenger (Angela Enahoro) to transport across town. Hardy’s wild shenanigans with her new friend take a turn, and before she knows it, she finds herself in the middle of an outbreak she desperately needs to avoid. Involving Stretch and a believable host of others along the way, Hardy crashes through the city and countryside (even an abandoned amusement park) to escape a deadly predator and a cadre of vigilantes who seek not only to eliminate a deadly threat but her as well for unleashing it. 

The entirety of Dashcam is filmed on multiple “screens,” which makes it quite the experience, and one must commend Savage and the cast for capturing it all so effectively. I mean, were I in that situation, holding a camera to film what was going on would be the least of my worries (I would have thrown my phone at the first thing that jumped out at me), but somehow it all gets documented in an easy to track way. The special effects used are sparse but spooky, and the make-up effects yield appropriately disgusting yucks from viewers. It’s not an easy film to watch for multiple reasons, but it’s energizing, nonetheless.

While Dashcam runs 77 minutes, the actual film is just a hair over an hour. The remaining time is taken up by Hardy doing her song-composing schtick…using the names of the cast and crew for inspiration. I’m not sure if some of these people would take being featured here as a tribute or takedown, but none of them should let their moms hear what Hardy has to say. It’s a strange ending to an oddly constructed film, but I did enjoy it all the same. I can see why Hardy would be a lot to take, and she is, but despite her views, I found her raw shock jock humor to be often quite funny. One thing I’m sure of is that had the lead character been a male, no one would come down as hard on the issue of likability.

Movie Review ~ Host (2020)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Six friends hire a medium to hold a seance via Zoom during lock down – but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong.

Stars: Emma Louise Webb, Caroline Ward, Haley Bishop, Radina Drandova, Jemma Moore, Seylan Baxter, Edward Linard

Director: Rob Savage

Rated: NR

Running Length: 56 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:   Only the lucky 1% of critics can call watching and writing about movies their only job, the rest of us have to pay our bills and mortgages with a full time gig somewhere else and over the past few months I’ve been working from home at my corporate job that I happen to enjoy quite a lot.  I count myself lucky because it’s rare to truly like both things that keep you busy throughout the week…so…a major win for me!  At my Mon-Fri job, we’ve been meeting on a regular basis through a video conference service my home camera just won’t connect with, no matter how much I try.  Though I’ve been attempting to fix it for a while now it was great at first because no one needs to see the bags under my eyes grow bigger throughout the week.  Eventually, though, I started to regret not being able to be “seen” by my co-workers.

Within the last two weeks, we’ve been told we’re moving to Zoom which has better connectivity for the type of services we provide and also works with my webcam.  I was excited to finally get camera ready and, more importantly, explore the wonderful world of fun backgrounds Zoom has to offer…then I made a silly decision to check out the new Shudder horror film Host.  Filmed over twelve weeks during the recent quarantine by a locked-down crew, this is one freaky flick that gave me serious Zoom Doom.  Proving that you’re not safe even in an innocuous web browser, the filmmakers have taken the current situation and turned a limitation into an advantage.  In doing so, they’ve created a nifty scare treat that will have you praying you don’t see anything similar in your next conference with executive leadership.

Following in similar style to the also-effective Unfriended and Searching, Host nicely brings you directly into the action by having the events play out in real time on the screen in front of you.  Essentially, what’s on the screen is everything everyone else is seeing, hearing, and experiencing so the reactions are immediate, and the tension is able to be cranked up quite quickly with every mysterious noise or moving shadow.  Running a scant 56 minutes, Host manages to fit in more honest-to-goodness scares (and at least two truly grand ones that likely shaved a year off my life) than other ghostly tales that run twice its length.  True, some are of the jump variety but a number are the sort of creeping dread that grows and grows until you almost can’t stand it.

A group of twenty-somethings, bored with their pandemic confinement after being separated from their daily routine for weeks, agree to an admittedly out-there proposition by one of their own.  Haley has organized a séance and while she claims the medium is the real deal and was successful in the past, her friends are mostly made up of skeptics and outright naysayers like the wisecracking Jemma. The only male in the group is ginger goofball Teddy but he’s quickly pulled away by his clingy girlfriend.  With only the girls remaining, an attempt is made to connect with the spirits through Seylan the medium though they are often stopped by interruptions familiar to anyone that’s dealt with web conferencing over the last several months.  Things turn scary, though, when a simple joke by Jemma conjures up a different kind of spirit than they had intended…one that isn’t friendly and doesn’t take kindly to those that don’t believe.

I’d encourage you to approach Host with as little knowledge of how it came to be as possible.  I went into the experience knowing only the basic premise and that it came recommended and that was good enough for me.  Learning more about how director Rob Savage put the film together with the cast might take away some of its well-earned magic because its learning about the process after the fact, not before, that enhances the film.  From start to finish, this is a sterling example of how to make the most out of a bad situation and produce something smart and, if not wholly original, the kind of film that speaks to audiences here and now.

Performances are good too.  The young cast more than capably handles the changing emotions that begin with the hopes for a fun evening before quickly devolving into disbelief at the events transpiring in front of their eyes.  If there’s one nitpick I could point out it’s that the editing is perhaps a bit too convenient to the narrative and often breaks the structure of the Zoom format that has been established.  I get why the filmmakers had to make these small allowances but sticking to a recognized structure is important in capping off that extra dose of reality.  Even so, you’ll find your eyes begin to desperately start to search for the scares before they happen but trust me…it won’t do you any good.  Savage and his crew get you when you least expect it and often have things happen so briefly that you question if what you saw even really happened.

Available on the subscription service Shudder, Host is reason alone to investigate the 7-day free trial they often offer.  While their selections rotate monthly, they usually have a nice selection of standard horror titles as well as international genre pictures that could be of interest if you are looking for something different.  I typically like to sign up for their service around September or October as that is when they begin to load their site with a plethora of tantalizing tales of terror but they seem to be getting out the good stuff early by rolling out Host now.  Log on, sign up, and sit back…this Host is dialed in and ready to scare.