A video editor seizes his opportunity to become an investigative reporter in Christian Nilsson’s political thriller Dashcam. Juggling the classic political thriller subgenre and a more modern found footage-esque approach, the film toggles between self-contained espionage and screen-life exploration. Dashcam stars genre legend Larry Fessenden (Jakob’s Wife), Zachary Booth (Ava’s Possession), Noa Fisher (Uncut Gems), and Eric Tabach (Love is Strange) but it’s only Tabach’s timid, yet tenacious, Jake that we see in the flesh. The film has a whole cast of characters, but everyone appears as little talking heads on Jake’s computer screen +/- a menacing voice on the phone.
When we first meet Jake, it’s Halloween night and he’s stuck at home putting together a last-minute news piece for work. Friends of his are hosting a half virtual, half in-person costume party but, thankfully for him, Jake is looking for any excuse to stay hidden in his apartment. His anxiety has been getting worse and the idea of leaving the house to meet up with friends for a party is about as enticing as to him as letting a stranger cough into his mouth.
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“…a taut 360-degree detective story perfect for the conspiracy theory-minded and the true-crime obsessed…”
The news piece is an exclusive from the police department, regarding the high-profile death of a politician who was shot by a patrolman during a traffic stop. After a lot of waiting, and a lot of needless stress from his boss, the video file from the police finally arrives but (surprise, surprise) this case isn’t as cut-and-dry as the public has been told. Jake becomes an enemy of the state in an instant when he is accidentally given unrestricted access to the police department’s evidence files, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that the politician was assassinated.
Eric Tabach carries large portions of the film as the only person on-screen talking to himself about the unbelievable situation he’s found himself in, occasionally practicing his investigative reporting in the bathroom mirror. There’s also a matter of the compounding stress of what his life is about to look like after becoming a whistleblower to the biggest political scandal since the JFK assassination. Fessenden himself also taps into that unhinged fear as a man marked for death by the United States government. He appears mostly as a scared voice through wiretaps, flashing on-screen for seconds at a time when the police officer’s bodycam is standing by the side of his car. His frantic phone calls are what help flesh out the conspiracy surrounding his death but don’t get too hung up on learning exactly why he’s been targeted because it’s as vaguely simple as I know too much!
Part screen-life thriller, part detective procedural, Dashcam scratches the same internet sleuthing itch that usually only disappears after a sleepless late digging through Reddit threads. Fans of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out will especially appreciate Jake’s piece-by-piece reconstruction of the murder using the dashcam & bodycam footage, as well as a phone tap recording from Senator Lieberman (Fessenden) at the time of his death. With all those vantage points on this one single event, Nilsson constructs a taut 360-degree detective story perfect for the conspiracy theory-minded and the true-crime obsessed alike.
Like all conspiracy theories, however, Dashcam doesn’t provide a terribly satisfying conclusion but it does double down on its grim worldview. Conspiracy theories rarely have happy endings (if they even have an end at all!) and neither does this cover-up caper. The detective work in the 2nd act of the story is nonstop nerdy forensic fun, and that’s not just because I spend a lot of my time editing as well. Jake’s investigation has more twists and turns than you would expect and it feels like we’re running all across the city looking for clues without having to leave his apartment.
“Dashcam isn’t afraid to break the screen-life format […] but it fully embraces the technique to utilize its unique brand of POV storytelling.”
We do eventually find our way outside for further investigation but the most engaging sections of the movie are when it’s just us, Jake, and the late Senator looking for a second shooter in the grassy knoll. Dashcam isn’t afraid to break the screen-life format when it makes sense to step away but it fully embraces the technique to utilize its unique brand of POV storytelling. I bet if you ate a few edibles beforehand and watched it on a laptop you could even trick yourself into thinking you were doing all that sleuthing yourself; You stoned Sherlock, you.
Christian Nilsson’s Dashcam celebrated its world premiere at the 2021 Popcorn Frights Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our continued coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know what you would do if you suddenly found yourself in the middle of a government cover-up over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.