One of the biggest hits during the pandemic, and certainly the most iconically “Covid” movie, was Rob Savage’s smart horror Host, a 57 minute chiller based entirely over a Zoom call. It was scary, it was incredibly current and it put Savage and his cast and crew firmly on the horror map.
Now with his follow up, Dashcam, Savage and his team are experimenting with the genre once again. Another found footage movie, Dashcam follows right-wing internet personality Annie Hardy (played by US musician Annie Hardy) as she live streams her increasingly bizarre evening for her fans (the whole thing is told via her dashcam or her mobile). Annie, the character, is in the mould of the Final Girl (the single surviving female who has suffered all manner of ordeals and makes it out the other side of the horror movie) but unlike in the classic trope, Annie is, as Savage describes “an asshole” who spouts anti-mask, anti-vax conspiracies theories and is a massive pain in the arse even to her friends.
“We wanted to make a movie about an asshole,” Savage says. “We wanted to make a movie where the protagonist was the most dangerous person in the movie. And if she just acted in a reasonable way, the whole movie would be over in five minutes and everyone would survive.”
Spoilers. She does not. It is not. They do not.
We sat down with Savage over (not haunted) Zoom to chat life after Host, shooting in pandemic phase two, and his Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman.
Host was a mega hit that felt like it came out of nowhere. How have things been since?
It’s been crazy, it’s been lovely. The main thing that’s been nice, aside from that the response to Host was so lovely and heartening all of that was beautiful, but aside from that, the lovely thing was being able to have some choice on the next thing we did, being able to jump straight onto another movie
We shot Dashcam the winter of 2020 right after we did Host so it was only a couple of months between. The off the back of that when I was shooting Dashcam, to know the the next movie was ready to go, the fact that people give a shit what my next movie is and I get to work consistently and not be worried about what the next project is going to be and not to flounder in the way that you do when you are a freelance filmmaker, that’s been amazing. I’ve been too busy to process.
How did this particular story and working with Jason Blum come about?
I wanted to just jump in and make the movie right after Host because I wanted to make it with the same team. We were on this crazy high off the back of Host, and so it was like ‘we should shoot the next thing straightaway’. Just to utilize that energy and so I went to Jason I was like ‘we want to just dive straight in and make something, we want to shoot it the same way as Host, off a treatment. We want to kind of make it up as we go along. We want to improvise a bunch of it. We had this treatment for Dashcam we’d written actually pre-pandemic, we’d written it in late 2018, 2019. Based around Annie and her real show, Band Car in which she drives around and improvises this rap music based on profane comments that come into her live stream. We had this idea and the pitch for that was ‘House of the Devil in a moving car,’ like this specific crass DoorDash person who’s doing a live stream and picks up an elderly woman who may or may not be what she seems. That was like the pitch, and nobody wanted to do it. Nobody knew who we were. This was pre-Host.
And then I pitched it to Jason and he was like ‘yeah, go make it’. And it was as simple as that. Then a couple of weeks after Host came out, we went straight into pre-production on Dashcam. And the idea was to just do exactly the same thing and kind of build the movie as we were prepping for it. We had a structure, but more importantly, we had Annie and her kind of beautiful gutter brain that we knew could improvise around our bare bones treatment that we’re putting together.
It also felt like something that would get us out of the house, which was really important in the lockdown.
Where did you film?
We filmed a bit in Norfolk and a bit in Margate where Amar (Chadha-Patel who plays Stretch) lives because we had a bit of Blumhouse money but it’s still super low budget. We were shooting in people’s houses and he lived there in Margate, so we decided to shoot in Margate and then a bit in London and then I flew to LA to do the opening of the movie.
Where is the fairground?
That’s in Margate. It was all very fortuitous.
Is that Dreamland?
It’s spooky. Just like Host, so much to this movie was just using what was available to us. So we went to Margate to visit Amar to check out his house. And we were like, Oh, I guess because you live here we’re going to shoot here, so we should look and see if there are any spooky things in the area. We wandered into Dreamland, and found the hall of mirrors and the crazy tree room and all these kind of amazing little bits. And again, we just went well, of course we’ve got to put that in the movie.
Was it always important to you to have that pandemic vein?
It kind of felt like the treatment that we’d written was even more interesting in Covid times the idea of having the one of the central characters be this like frail, elderly woman who may be in danger, maybe the danger, that felt like it added an extra layer of tension, especially when you put somebody who’s a conspiracy theorist and isn’t wearing a mask and isn’t doing the things that we’ve been told we’re supposed to do. That felt more interesting in the pandemic, and then it was also just about trying to take the temperature of the time. You know, it’s interesting that it’s coming out now like a year and a half, two years later. Because it’s a 2020 movie. This movie was made during the Biden/Trump election when everyone was shouting at each other. And so it kind of has a bit of that DNA. It’s a very shouty, end of 2020 movie that just happens to be coming out in 2022.
It’s almost kind of like you’re the horror bard of the pandemic, in that these movies will capture these moments in history that everybody will remember.
That felt like one of the reasons it was worth doing. We did the indoor, clap for the NHS, everyone bump elbows, movie with Host. And we wanted to do like, you know, everyone’s back out in the world. Not everyone’s happy about it. And just again, plant a flag and say this is kind of what it felt like at the end of 2020 in that first wave.
How much of what Annie does is scripted and how much is it more like you set out events and she goes with it?
All the scenarios were planned out. And we kind of knew the beats that we needed to hit but this is the thing, just like with Host there’s definitely overlap between Annie, the person and Annie the character. She’s definitely pulling from her repertoire of subject matter. But she’s like the loveliest, most respectful person in real life and we wanted to make a movie about an asshole. We wanted to make a movie where the protagonist was the most dangerous person in the movie. Yeah, and if she just acted in a reasonable way, the whole movie would be over in five minutes and everyone would survive. And so it was really about just knowing that Annie’s brain would fire off all these amazing, witty quips. But that she’d also be able to hit these beats throughout the scene. The thing that I’m upset about with this movie is that she’s a great actor, like she’s acting for this whole movie. We’re throwing her into these situations and they all have specific demands, and she’s meeting them time after time. But it’s just like with Host, I feel like the Host girls got overlooked for their performances because they were playing versions of themselves. She’s a really incredible actor.
You’re out in LA right now working on the Boogeyman?
We’re just in the editing room right now. We finished shooting a couple of weeks ago.
That’s Stephen King of course and that story is really creepy…
Really creepy. And I think we’ve taken it in our own direction. But we’ve kept hopefully very true to that short story, which is one of my favorites and King has been lovely. He read the script and really liked it. And you know, that’s the script that we shot. So if he doesn’t like the movie, then it’s my fault. Everything’s in place for it to be a great movie. We’ve got an incredible cast. Incredible team and yeah, and I watched the assembly the other day and it wasn’t painful. Assembly is normally pretty soul destroying and it was good even in assembly form. I think it’s good, I think unless something horrible happens between now and then it’s gonna be a really special movie.
Does it have a pandemic element to it?
Is it scary? Because Host and Dashcam are scary.
I think this is scarier than both of them. I had a full toolbox on this one. Like I was able to play with all the toys and play with conventional cinema language which… I hadn’t shot anything properly for like three, maybe more years. So I was pretty anxious about that but it was actually really fun to be able to play with that and yeah, I don’t know. I mean Host is pretty scary, it’ll be at least as scary as Host.
It’s really common for people in your position, who’ve done very good, successful but low budget horror movies to be snapped up by big studios to make a blockbuster. Are you interested if that were the case?
I don’t think I could do that because I just don’t understand how you can do this job and not really invest in what you’re making. When I started to work on developing The Boogeyman part of me was like, ‘well, if this becomes a nightmare studio thing, I’ll just do it for the paycheck’, and then immediately within like five minutes of working on it, it becomes the most personal thing to you and you care about it so much and every single stitch of it feels like it’s yours. And I just don’t know how you get through it otherwise. It’s such as it’s such a slog, and you’ve got to really believe in what you’re doing. Friends and colleagues have taken the step up to do Marvel projects and big studio things. And, I’ve seen the way that that process can kind of demoralise you or just sand the edges off in a way that I think would destroy me.
Dashcam is out now in theaters and available to stream.