He’s got a butt buffet.
Annie Hardy (played by Annie Hardy, of indie rock Giant Drag fame) is sick of COVID. Who isn’t, right? While most are sick of the nonsense perpetrated by bad faith politicians and partisan, anti-vax cultists who ensured the pandemic’s longevity via multiple mutated variants and an ever-increasing contentiousness pitting “prevention” versus “restriction,” however, she is one of those bad faith, partisan, anti-vax cultists. And that’s fine if there’s a reason for her to be one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take more than five minutes to realize there isn’t. Dashcam director Rob Savage and his co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd simply wield her obnoxiously self-righteous and attention-seeking persona for laughs. Except one million Americans died, over six million humans died, and more lay dying now. It’s never been funny.
So, what do her MAGA-hat wearing, confrontational antics add beyond a reason to wish she’ll die a gruesome, horror-fueled death? You can say it’s why the film is set in England since Annie is so sick of being “oppressed” that she flies across the Atlantic with mask hanging below her nose to surprise an old friend and bandmate (Amar Chadha-Patel‘s Stretch) by crashing at his home unannounced in the middle of the night. You can also say that it’s why she’s “forced” to steal said friend’s car after his girlfriend (Jemma Moore‘s Gemma) kicks her to the curb because of her refusal to even pretend there’s a decent bone in her body. But that’s all superficial. So is Stretch’s Grubhub-equivalent job igniting the carnage. It’s easily rewritten noise.
You could infer that Savage and company are therefore using this characterization as a means for commentary or clarity, but that would be wrong too. Annie doesn’t learn anything during her live-streamed escapades (she runs a channel called “Band Car” wherein she uses audience-provided words to create freestyle raps while driving). If anything, she doubles down by causing a commotion wherever she goes thanks to England’s track-and-trace sign-in QR-codes and mask mandates—both of which she flaunts like a toddler throwing a tantrum. She mocks Stretch for being with someone who turned him into a health-conscious “lib-tard,” consistently acts in ways that turn us into bloodthirsty monsters wishing for her demise, and ultimately finds herself (**spoiler**) alive to rap the end credits for ten minutes. She’s the hero.
As such: screw this movie for exploiting the COVID pandemic for weak laughs and using a stereotype that will surely trigger the PTSD of survivors who have watched loved ones die because of this faulty interpretation of the First Amendment. Screw it for thinking that I could empathize with a loud-mouth, boorish troublemaker trolling everyone (stranger and friend alike) for a couple extra views, likes, and potential cash donations. Screw it too for being an inventively nasty “live-stream” nightmare (I use quotes because service drops a lot and Annie’s audience doesn’t get to watch half of what we do, making it so we can’t be watching a live-stream either). I want to bash this misguided piece of COVID-panic into the ground and yet its filmmaking earns genuine praise.
What at first seems like a lo-fi excuse for crudely improvised assholery eventually becomes an avenue for expertly blocked scares courtesy of confined frames (when the camera goes vertical, the screen does too). The moment Annie walks into an abandoned diner to retrieve a meal she mockingly accepted on Stretch’s stolen phone, the formal ingenuity of the visual restrictiveness of the medium is finally allowed to shine. This is where she meets Angela (Angela Enahoro), an aging woman in desperate need of medical attention that Annie agrees to drive for a stack of cash. Fast-forward to a fecal event and we meet an unnamed assailant (Mogali Masuku) looking to take Angela for herself. One powerfully telekinetic shove across the room from off-screen later and the action is on.
The grain and blur of handheld equipment helps to hide the artificiality of the effects while Annie’s attempt to laugh at Stretch’s expense morphs into a night of survival against-all-odds thanks to Angela’s unexplained powers awakening. Car crashes, shotgun blasts, and a squid-like creature burst onto the scene as the environment shifts from darkened forest to abandoned carnival to cult hideout with the blood and body count rising exponentially at ever stop. The editing is smooth when needed and jerky when not (Savage truncates quieter moments and adjusts the live-stream chat accordingly to lend authenticity to the passing of time). And that chat is innocuous enough to ignore if you aren’t well-versed in reading and watching simultaneously. It’s mostly insults and trolling that add nothing but uncensored color.
Does it counter the fact that Angela—the “villain”—is the only one I could pull for? No. Stretch has his moments, but I’ll never understand the whole “we were so close in our youth that I’ll blindly accept my friend’s inability to grow-up despite it ruining my life” conceit. That’s what social media is really for: to keep tabs on how badly indoctrinated by zealotry your old high school chums have become so you can screen your calls whenever they try reaching out. This could have just been about an American visiting England who gets caught up in a wild night of terror without losing any of its strengths. Doing so would only have been additive because I might have then cared about anything that happened on-screen.
courtesy of TIFF