Dashcam is the new film from writer and director Rob Savage who received a lot of attention and acclaim after his Zoom-based horror hit, Host.
Set in the midst of lockdown and quarantine, Dashcam is shot POV through the camera phone of Annie Hardy. She is a social media influencer, conservative, and antivaxxer who hosts a show called Band Car which she touts as “the internet’s #1 live improvised music show broadcast from a moving vehicle.” Upset and bored with the governmental COVID-19 regulations of the U.S., Hardy travels to England to surprise her old bandmate Stretch.
Hardy arrives to find that her beliefs cause rifts with Stretch and his fiancée who Hardy feels are just giving into the “conspiracy” of COVID and that they are just sheep who are following more progressive movements.
After Hardy goes with Stretch on his food delivery job and they get into an argument, Hardy steals Stretch’s car and takes a delivery that leads her to a place where she is asked to deliver a black woman named Angela to an address instead of food. This unusual delivery request sets off a chain of events that leaves both Hardy and Stretch in perilous situations with supernatural forces.
For those of you who have issues with films like The Blair Witch Project and its shaky cam, since this is shot from the vantage point of a camera phone, the film is mostly shaky cam throughout. So, if you can’t watch films with that type of movement, skip Dashcam.
I liked some of the supernatural scenes in this film and I wasn’t bothered by the gore, but I have a lot of issues with this film, so if you don’t want spoilers, I would stop reading here.
Let’s start with our main character, Annie Hardy. While I understand she is meant to be over the top, she is so over the top it is truly unbelievable and frustrating at several points in the film. This exaggeration ends up making her a flat character that does not seem to have an appropriate or believable response to the most intense and frightening situations.
And while this antivaxxer final girl finds herself with a sudden cough at the end of the film, which leads us to believe that she has perhaps caught COVID, I found myself wanting her to be destroyed by the forces that were out to get her. She lacked redeeming qualities and Savage does not give us any place to actually like her if we are not within her belief system.
Then when it comes to the supernatural events in Dashcam, there is no real explanation or clear understanding of why they are taking place. It seems like at times that the mysterious Angela is infected with something but it is never named or explained. At other times there are nods to a cult being involved. And then there is a wormlike creature that shows up. All of these things occur without explanation and are overall confusing. If Savage was trying to show that the pandemic has been a confusing time and that it can be hard tell what’s going on, I appreciate that sentiment, but confusing the audience is not the way to go about it.
Finally, I need to discuss the racism in Dashcam. In this day and age to make the protagonist a MAGA hat-wearing, anitvaxx white woman who believes that COVID-19 is a hoax and pit her against two black women in the film sets off alarms immediately. This choice of character and characterizations reinforces scientific racism, racist stereotypes, and racist narratives.
Let me start with the scientific racism. Since the audience is led to believe that Angela has been infected by something that is not COVID, and that doesn’t seem to be something any of the white people are worried about catching, this feeds the notion that black people carry different diseases than white people, and those diseases do not or cannot harm white people.
And then there is the fact that Angela presents as zombie-like, brainless, and out of control of her bodily functions in many scenes. These attributes feed the racist notions from scientific racism that black folks are less intelligent or just plain mentally inferior to white people, especially when her condition is never fully explained.
Then throughout Dashcam, Hardy is faced time and time with another black woman who is trying to kill her for reasons that are not revealed until late into the film. On a surface level, Hardy is having to battle, “an angry black woman” which is a stereotype that harms woman of color on many levels. Add to that the fact that this woman is also violent towards Hardy, which feeds racist notions that black people are coming to hurt and kill white people. These aspects make it difficult not to feel like these character conflicts are serving as some sort of right-wing conservative propaganda that feeds the racist notions that black people are scary and dangerous.
In addition to those racist aspects of the storyline, it’s hard to not think about how disproportionately COVID-19 has affected BIPOC communities since its beginning. To make an anti-vaxxer and hoaxer the final girl just feels like a blatantly dismissive act that flies in the face of the numerous people of color who have been so devastatingly impacted by the pandemic. I cannot separate this film from these racist aspects.
I know a lot of people are raving about this film, but I am not one of them. Savage’s film misses the mark and the racist elements only gives a stronger platform for those who, in real life, agree with Hardy. While some may be able to dismiss her has just a caricature of a person, her ideas and actions are very real, very dangerous, and very active in present day. And since she gets out alive, it sends the message that folks with these same views will make it through and survive. Dashcam may very well resonate with an audience that perhaps Savage didn’t intend. But then again, maybe he did.
Dashcam is rated R, has a runtime of 1 hour 17 minutes, and is out now.