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Presenting only what the characters see on their devices as a séance conducted over Zoom goes wrong, Rob Savage’s first horror feature Host (2020), co-written with his regular collaborators Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd during the first Covid lockdown, was pure ‘screenlife’ horror. The film entered a subcategory of ‘first-person’ or ‘found’ footage whose shaky immediacy, all purportedly shot with intradiegetic cameras, creates a documentary-like vérité for the viewer, even as what unfolds becomes ever more unreal. Dashcam, the filmmakers’ latest piece of panicky pandemic pandemonium, is also ‘screenlife’, mostly showing us the livestream of a vlogger. Adding to the reality effect, the protagonist (Annie Hardy, played by Annie Hardy) shares her name – and evidently some of her beliefs and bio – with the person playing her.
There is a layered dynamic to the horror of Dashcam. On the one hand, Annie (the character) is herself a perfect vehicle for unease. On her livecast BandCar (“The Internet’s #1 Live Improvised Music Show Broadcast From A Moving Vehicle”), she preaches anti-vax, anti-mask propaganda in a MAGA hat and reduces everything and everyone to the lowest of impulses. Her edgy, id-like onslaught of verbal diarrhoea, extreme political incorrectness and scatological rap is as repugnant as it is funny. Even as individual viewers negotiate their willingness to accompany Annie on this uncomfortable ride, and as scrolling commentary from other viewers serves as a constant reminder of the company we are keeping and the complicity we are embracing, the nightmarish Annie must face her own nightmares: when she runs away from “the fucking madness of America” to catch up with her old musical partner-in-crime Stretch (Amar Chadha-Patel) in England, to her horror she discovers that he has since become a Black Lives Matter-supporting vegan under the thumb of a “libtard bitch” girlfriend (Jemma Moore).
The very real tensions with which Savage is working are the polarised politics of the Anglosphere, but if Annie is top troll here, there are other, somewhat more conventional monsters waiting to pounce from the shadows, bringing to life the darkest, craziest conspiracy theories to be found in Annie’s (live)stream of consciousness. So, along with Dasha Nekrasova’s The Scary of Sixty-First (2021), Dashcam becomes part of a new QAnon canon, putting us in the back seat of its paranoid heroine’s unhinged, deeply unnerving worldview, and ending less with a bang than with a telltale cough to puncture Annie’s toxic ideology. Annie is a metaphorical car crash among several literal ones – and it is hard to look away.