Directed by Glenn Payne
Last night I was speaking with a friend about my favourite horror-comedies. He’s never liked horror flicks, so was maybe asking about these as a potential route in. I get this – funnily enough, it was my tweeting about Behind The Mask which got me into writing for this website. Aside from giving me a reason to share my obviously thrilling origin story as a reviewer with you, this chat marked the first time I saw a pattern behind the horror-comedies I like. Except for Tucker and Dale vs Evil, I tend to warm much more to horror films with funny bits than comedy films with horror bits. So, for example, I’d much rather be watching Ready or Not, Scream and Gremlins than more spoofy outings like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland or Scary Movie.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that at least part of why I didn’t get on with this little ditty from director Glenn Payne is a personal preference for how the subgenre should is best handled. For me, it doesn’t matter how silly a horror-comedy gets provided the film takes the source of tension seriously – which there could have been here, given it’s mostly Collateral with a supernatural twist. Emerson (Dillard, also writing) is an aspiring comedian who works for an Uber-style service called Ferry. While driving around a range of posing teens, arguing couples and sleeping drunks she uses them, along with her rescue dog, as the basis for some gags. However, if she thinks any of them was weird she’s in for a shock when she picks up Roger (Speight Jnr.): a mysterious man who it turns out is on a time-sensitive quest to hunt down body-possessing demons.
Inherent to this sort of two people in a cab film is the idea of change – ironically, something all but replaced by card in these Appy days. Characters are on a literal journey between two points that will tend to parallel an internal one. So, from this angle, Driven can be easily forgiven for keeping the nature of its threat quite underdeveloped – a generic family curse plot made more complicated by Roger’s grandpa being a mad shagger. The important part is our two protagonists and the impact they have on each other’s lives. In that respect, it helps that the actors have chemistry, and can bounce off each other in the snappier sections of the script. Some of the humour is relatively charming, and the bits where Emerson and Roger share a laugh are good fun. Even if two or three gags are run into the ground – you won’t want to know what a “turd spoon” is anything like as much as the film seems to assume you will.
Crucially though, there isn’t much tension between them. Both travellers are world-weary and, in looking for direction. For some viewers, this will be no bad thing: I know odd-couple narratives get done to death. Yet I suspect part of the reason for this is they have the inbuilt sense of reward by the end. The approach of having the leads banter as much as bicker may be less clichéd, but without an airtight script, it means the few instances when they do fall out feel more forced than earned. On top of this, the inevitable bits where they make up are less satisfying than what we expect to happen. Hence I reckon a version of Roger with more gravitas or self-importance would have been a far better foil for the cynical but passive Emerson. Here, I think we have the basis for an enjoyable trip into character-driven horror that could benefit from being less lightweight. Or, to use a patchy metaphor, the drama-meter requires more personal costs. On the plus side, the dialogue is naturalistic – save when Emerson’s ex enters, to aid her growth with an overly direct explanation for why their relationship ended*. But it’s not interesting to carry the film in the absence of an exciting story.
Without much tension between characters, a lot is resting on the plot. Even ignoring the middle of the road explanation for the demons, described above, it doesn’t hold. The lightweight approach to tension between our heroes is matched by the lightweight tension between them and their barely defined foes. Emerson also accepts what’s going on without many questions, taking to the events around her far too quickly. Like in The Hunt earlier this year, it’s great to have a character not lose their shit at the first sign of something scary, but it can be hard to sell them as a lead. Not that I blame Emerson for not being scared – where scenes should be horrific, Payne’s fidelity to keeping the camera in the car means they appear clumsy, and audience are at too much of a distance from what’s happening. The soundtrack occasionally helps to sell it, with some tasteful use of synth throughout, although quite often it becomes too big, detracting from the intimacy. Thus, for both the characters and the plot the final destination is an anti-climax. It’s a frustrating resolution to a sweet jaunt. Yeah, it can be nice to feel in safe hands. Nevertheless, normally I want a bumpier ride.
Driven is available on VOD now.
* On a side note, I’m glad Driven does something very few films do by featuring an incidentally bisexual character who it is attracted to both men and women alike – rather than doing a Deadpool.