Dashcam review – Blow Out for the computer age

Dashcam review – Blow Out for the computer age

There are two movies coming out this season called Dashcam. Having only seen one, I cannot speak as to whether or not they have similar plots, but I’m sure they both feature footage that was ‘found’ from a dashboard camera. But to call Dashcam ‘found footage’ would be a misnomer. While it does use ‘found footage’ and ‘screen life’ elements to tell its story, it’s all enveloped in a classic narrative where the camera is not assumed to be present. One would think that by bouncing between different filmic styles a movie would become abrasive or unwieldy, but in the case of Dashcam the pastiche of styles ties into the plot rather organically, and works to crank up the tension without leaning on the looseness that lesser found footagers employ to hide a lack of budget or imagination.

A sort of modern-tech throwback to Blow Out, Dashcam follows a night in the life of Jake (Eric Tabach), a editor tasked with cutting together a news spot for his boss, dickhead reporter Tim (Zachary Booth). It’s a pretty big story, and their network has the exclusive: During what appears to be a routine traffic stop, a politician (Larry Fessenden) exchanges bullets with a police officer and both men end up dead. Jake, who hopes to one day become a reporter himself, can’t help but to take a deeper look at the footage, which seems to indicate that the story being reported is actually something much more sinister.

Most of the film is spent in Jake’s apartment, where we watch him do his thing as an editor. Long portions do indeed take place on his computer screen, where we get to see in great detail just how he is able to extract additional information from what should be relatively boilerplate news footage. In fact, I’d say my understanding of how editing software works is much better after having seen the film. Watching these long portions of grunt work should be boring, but in the able hands of director Chirstian Nilsson, they are some of the most compelling material in the film. The processes employed on his screen are the perfect mechanism for dispensing plot material in a suspenseful way. Rather than milking the plot with contrivance, we instead use natural tech occurrences like buffering, uploading, and processing to draw the viewer to the edge of their seat.

The malfeasance that Jake uncovers is pretty garden variety stuff, but Dashcam smartly avoids going in too deep. It’s not about the implications of what’s happening beyond the events of the dash footage, but rather the way that powerful entities can alter reality to suit their ends, even if the reality in question has been recorded for posterity. It’s scary stuff to ponder, and even though Dashcam is fiction, it’s not at all difficult to buy.

With films like this it often comes down to the performances to get a relatively plot-light story across the finish line, and the cast stacks up wonderfully in this regard. Tabach gives Jake a full life beyond the time we spend with him (the film is mostly in real-time), creating a thoroughly motivated character to which just about anyone can relate. Sure, he has to get some characterization out of the way in the form of him rehearsing his dream newscasts in the mirror, but as silly as it is in the moment, it ends up working quite well to cover a lot of ground with minimal screentime And frankly, I can believe that a wannabe reporter with confidence issues would find comfort in rehearsing for a job he doesn’t have. Jakes girlfriend, portrayed here by Giorgia Whigham, exists as a tether between our story and the world at large. Her passing remarks end up informing a lot of the decisions Jake makes in pretty big ways, but they never feel like scripted pieces of plot material. Their relationship feels real, even if it takes place entirely on a computer screen. It’s also the source of a handful of laughs that lighten the mood as needed, while also serving to balance out some pretty heavy thriller/horror elements.

Dashcam is a short, low budget oddity that makes efficient use of minimal tools to tell its story, proving that an excess of imagination beats resources any day of the week. It’s a mean little thriller with real world resonance, but most importantly, it’s the type of film that leaves you feeling like you can go out and make a kickass movie of your own. I love that feeling.

 

Directed by Christian Nilsson

Written by Christian Nilsson

Starring Giorgia Whigham, Larry Fessenden, Eric Tabach, Zacharyh Booth

Runtime 82 minutes

Now available On Digital from Kamikaze Dogfight and Gravitas Pictures

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