Exclusive interview: Director Rob Savage talks Blumhouse horror ‘DASHCAM’

DASHCAM
via Momentum Pictures

Filmmaker Rob Savage faces a tough task in following up Zoom horror sensation Host, which won universal acclaim after securing a perfect 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, becoming a viral phenomenon in the process.

Sticking with found footage but taking things in the completely opposite direction, DASHCAM arrives in theaters this coming Friday, June 3. Musician Annie Hardy stars as a fictionalized version of herself, who hosts the livestreamed improvisational music show Band Car.

Bored of being locked down in Los Angeles, she jets off to the United Kingdom on a whim to visit her old bandmate Stretch. However, when her abrasive personality rubs her old running buddy and his partner the wrong way, Annie decides to steal his car and hit the road, only to find herself drawn into a terrifying night packed full of terrifying, blood-splattered, and utterly demented demonic twists and turns.

Ahead of DASHCAM‘s impending release, We Got This Covered has the chance to speak to co-writer and director Savage about his call to stick with found footage, the polarizing personality of his movie’s lead character, his influences and inspirations, the status of his Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman for Hulu, and much more, which you can check out below.

DASHCAM
via Momentum Pictures

Did you feel any added pressure either consciously or subconsciously going into DASHCAM, when Host landed a perfect 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and was proven by no less of an authority than science itself to be the scariest movie ever made?

Rob Savage: Well, we shot DASHCAM right after Host. I mean, that’s the thing, because this movie is being released in a more conventional way, in that we we played Toronto and we did the festival circuit, it’s had a slightly longer gestation period. But we shot this three, four months after Host came out in the winter of 2020. So the idea was to just jump straight into the next one, use that same kind of creative energy off the back of Host and how successful that had proven to be, to just work with the same team.

Now that lockdown was lifted, to be able to work in the same space as them, as well, and try and just get the next one out there, or done at least as fast as possible. And to be honest, we were trying to slightly tarnish Host with this movie, by doing something that would totally alienate all the Host fans, or totally be counter to maybe what they’re expecting us to do; to make a movie that kind of on its surface shared a lot of DNA with Host, but in its substance really didn’t.

And you know, it was really a way of saying, “Look, if you want to follow what the Host team is doing, we’re going to be dabbling in all sorts of different kinds of horror, we’re going to be trying stuff out, we’re going to be hopefully surprising you along the way”. So it’s gonna be a shock to a few people.

Host is a movie about the horrors of being stuck inside during the pandemic, and DASHCAM revolves the horrors that can happen when the world opens back up – were the two always designed to be companion pieces of a sort?

Rob Savage: That’s a good way of putting it. It’s also you know, that they’re very much improvised movies, like they’re movies that we made up as we went along, to a large degree. The reason that we wanted to make them at all really was one, because it’s fun. And because we were frustrated, in lockdown, and with this one just coming out of lockdown.

But to just kind of take the temperature of the time, you know? 2020 was a very bizarre year. And they’ve been bizarre since, but Host was a much more kind of idealistic film, in a lot of ways. It kind of came at the start of lockdown, when we were still jumping on Zoom and doing quizzes, and hanging out. And you know, we were all in it together. And then DASHCAM really came, we made it… I think the first day of shooting was the day that Trump lost the election to Biden.

So, everything in the prep was just the kind of vitriol and of of that whole election cycle. And everyone coming out of lockdown in the UK happened to maybe go back into a second lockdown. There was just a lot of red faces and loud voices, and we wanted to make a movie that felt kind of suitably fired up. So hopefully reflects, a bit, the atmosphere of late 2020.

DASHCAM
via Momentum Pictures

Were there any concerns on your part about having a lead character that’s destined to split opinion who some viewers may not have much sympathy for? I love the irony in Annie being sort of the personification of a certain online point of view that grew louder during the pandemic, but here’s a movie that sets that perspective loose in the real world, and it doesn’t go well!

Rob Savage: Yeah. I mean, with Host, the aim was to make something that felt very real. It was, you know, everyone was on Zoom at the time. So it had to feel really authentic to Zoom and that experience. With DASHCAM, I wanted it to really feel like a cartoon, I wanted it to feel amped up, I wanted to feel like everything was heightened, and everyone was the worst version of themselves.

So, Annie’s character becomes the worst version of that, of that online troll persona that you’re talking about. And it becomes, you know, the worst extreme of that kind of chickensh*t liberal stereotype. I like to say that this film was like, this film was all in capital letters. This film is everything’s meant to be a little heightened. And, it felt like it was a good test of the limits of what horror could could do as well. But I think of horror as being like a machine for empathy.

If your main character is being chased by somebody with a hatchet, you’re going to want them to survive, you’re going to want to relate, maybe you’re wishing for some gore to splatter on the lens. But really, you’re rooting for the characters. And horror is a great equalizer. So, to start with a character who a lot of people would cross the road to avoid, and hopefully maybe have people rooting for her survival at the end, rooting for her to defeat the demonic force. It felt like a kind of interesting interesting thing to play with.

There’s obviously a mythology in place in DASHCAM given what happens in the second and third acts, but it’s refreshing to see a horror movie that doesn’t feel the need to get bogged down in over-explaining its own lore – which is presumably the point you were trying to make, for audiences to just strap in and go along for the ride?

Rob Savage: I prefer with found footage, that it feels visceral; that you feel it before you understand it. Because it feels more true to life, you know? If a Cloverfield monster was to attack right now, and I was to film it on my phone, Dr. Exposition wouldn’t run in and say, “Oh, well, we were testing, you know, we were broke out of our lab”. That’s not how life works. So I didn’t want any kind of like big exposition dumps.

And also, we shot in a couple of weeks, we tried a couple of scenes where Annie was kind of trying to piece things together and try to paint a bigger picture of what was going on. And it just felt not true to her character. She’s really this whirlwind that just breezes through, and leaves a wake of destruction behind her. And she’s not really that interested in the plot. And so the movie shouldn’t be.

It kind of became interesting to us that this character was wandering from scene to scene, in a movie that’s much bigger than her, and causing havoc without really having that much interest in what’s going on, other than “how can I survive?”. And “how can I get out of here?”. And, that’s kind of where the comments came into play. Because you kind of have to make a choice to watch the movie, or watch the comments. And there’s hopefully enough in the comments to reward a second viewing, and one of the things that’s right there in the comments is the plot if you want to, like the commenters, kind of become armchair detectives, and actually figure out a lot of this stuff.

They hypothesize, and they theorize, and they actually kind of like crack the case way before we get to the finale. So if you care to piece things together, it’s there in the comments. But we decided while we were shooting it that we weren’t particularly interested in it. So the movie shouldn’t be.

It makes sense. The third act especially, there’s an awful lot going on that comes out of nowhere, and a lot of modern horror doesn’t generate enough discussion after the fact. DASHCAM is the kind of movie that people will sit around afterwards and they’ll talk about it, and everyone will have a different opinion.

Rob Savage: Yeah, exactly. And we’re using this just like Host, as also our attempt to pay homage to a lot of movies that we that we’re influenced by, and that we love. And so we’re taking quite liberally from these movies, and we’re using tropes that will be recognizable, and we’re using iconography from all over the horror genre.

So I feel like people follow along with that. And they kind of imply a lot of the backstory because they watch a lot of horror. Or at least the hardcore horror fans will! So hopefully there’s enough breadcrumbs for people to put together their theories.

DASHCAM
via Momentum Pictures

Based on the set pieces and effects, there’s obviously a budget there for DASHCAM that Host didn’t have, but it doesn’t lose any of its guerrilla filmmaking sensibilities in the way its put together. Was that by design, necessity, or a combination of the two?

Rob Savage: Well, I’m glad you think that it had a budget! Because it had a bit more of a budget than Host, but Host had barely anything at all. And really, by taking this movie out and putting it out on the road, it wants to take logistics out of the equation. It’s a very low budget movie, same as Host.

And so we wanted to make sure that that all of the money that we did have, low budget though it was, we wanted to make sure all of that was on screen. And part of that was why we kind of gravitated so quickly towards the idea of doing another found footage movie, because I knew that our Blumhouse budget was only going to be marginally bigger than Host‘s, and yet I wanted do some of the things with this team now we’re kind of like let loose and out of lockdown. I wanted to make a bigger, bloodier, more effects-driven movie.

And so we went shooting, and found footage you just do away with nine tenths of the crew. You do away with the trucks, the lights, you’re shooting on an iPhone, everything becomes much simpler. It’s complicated in its own way, but it becomes simple, and allows you to focus on what’s in front of the lens rather than what’s behind.

Apologies in advance for making it sound so reductive, but in broad strokes DASHCAM is already being called ‘The Blair Witch Project for Gen Z’. Is that a tag you can live with?

Rob Savage: Yeah, I’ll take it! But, for me, this is much more in the vein of like, Evil Dead II or Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Those are the movies that we were reaching for. Blair Witch is almost so… As soon as you do a found footage movie, it’s so baked into the DNA. And I did actually go back and watch Blair Witch. I was brave enough to watch it after 10 years of being terrified of it! I watched it again before we started shooting, and and took a lot from it.

But really, the movies that we were referencing were these kind of splatter sequels from the 80s, where directors suddenly got a lot more money. And did these kind of unsubtle over-the-top, darkly comedic sequels to their original movie, like Evil Dead to Hellraiser to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And in all the ways that the first films were kind of refined and subtle, they went the opposite way, and they were filled with splatter, and crudeness. And that was kind of the flavor we were going for.

I have to ask you about the end credits, because it’s a brilliant way to end the movie. Did you have to run them past anyone in case they’d be offended, or was Annie just allowed to go for broke?

Rob Savage: Well, the main thing with that was to show people that, you know, they just watched this movie with special effects all over the place. And I wanted them to know that the one thing that wasn’t a special effect was Annie, that her brain really works that fast, and that she’s really able to make up these profane lyrics, just like that.

And so, the original idea was that we had it all playing out as a single take. It was one like, five-minute long shot of her in her car singing the lyrics, and she did everyone perfectly, and it’s brilliant. And we showed the movie to Jason Blum. And we’d actually mixed his name out because we didn’t want him to get angry if she said anything nasty about him! And he watched it, and he was like, “The credits are the best bit of the movie, you’ve got to do them again and you’ve got to see my name!”.

And he was like, “Make them twice as long saying my name, and see if you can see if you can push even further on that”. So we sent out a memo to all of the crew that was like, “Annie, the kind of things she’s gonna say about you, do you consent?”. And we got consent from most people. A couple of notable people said no, and then we just let we just let it rip. And we drove around with her for a few nights in a row, just recording and kind of piecing it all together. And yeah, it’s just a kind of testament to how fast her brain works.

DASHCAM
via Momentum Pictures

Next up for you is The Boogeyman, which present an altogether different set of expectations when you’re adapting Stephen King, especially when so much of his work is coming to film and TV on such a regular basis, what’s going to make this one stand out from the crowd?

Rob Savage: We’ve finished shooting, and we’re in the edit, and it’s all going very well. And I’m really, incredibly pleased with how this movie has come together. And I’m so in awe of the cast that we’ve that we’ve pulled together.

So I feel like, even if it turns out that I’ve totally f*cked up my part of it, I feel like everyone else in this movie is so incredibly talented, that it’s still going to come together to be something special. And yeah, hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, it’ll rank pretty high up the list of Stephen King adaptations. Knock on wood, but I think we’ve got something really, really great in the can. But that’s that’s where we are right now.

Technically there’s an asterisk beside it, but did you ever see yourself making a Disney movie at that stage in your career?

Rob Savage: How can I answer that without angering the mouse? No! But I didn’t see myself directing a Stephen King movie, or directing the studio movie. You know, pre-Host I was broke and begging for work! So all of this, I’m still living in the state of whiplash.

That concludes our interview with Rob Savage. DASHCAM comes to theaters this Friday, June 3, with a digital release available in select territories beginning Monday, June 6, and be sure to check out our review of the movie here.