The single shot movie has a long history in Hollywood, especially in the digital era. 2002’s Russian Ark was the first big scale example of it and – though it was so boring it was almost unwatchable – actually was one single, extensively choreographed shot.
Because it enabled the leaner, more mobile production of digital filmmaking others started showing up from multiple genres like German robbery/dance club thriller Victoria, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s awards darling Birdman, the searing Holocaust drama Son of Saul and horror flick Silent House.
But most of those, like Sam Mendes’ WWI film 1917, were actually done using multiple takes of individual sequences, digital trickery papering over the joins and making them only seem like a single take.
Dash is the first example of a single take movie where it was actually done in one monumental single take or the cuts between scenes are too invisible to see. And because it involves a ride share operator driving around Hollywood and it (presumably) had at least the merest structure for a script where the character had to show up at certain times in certain places for the story to advance, writer/director/editor/cinematographer Sean Perry was either incredibly lucky with the timing of traffic or (more likely) there are indeed cuts, you just can’t see them.
Because the first amazing thing about Dash from a technical standpoint is that it’s all filmed by what’s ostensibly a dashcam pointed back into the car where the hero (Alexander Molina) and various passengers play out their night in real time. Even though they must come when a light flashes outside from a passing cop car or streetlight, there are no obvious places to hide cuts.
The second is that – like 2013’s Locke – you’re watching nothing but a guy driving around all night with various passengers, few of which know each other well enough to dispense extraneous exposition and which are therefore all Perry has to use to tell the story. Despite as much it’s not only interesting, it’s a frantic, frenetic, profane and funny thrill ride, like Locke reimagined by Tarantino.
We meet the hero, a driver for an Uber-like rideshare service called Dash, getting a disinterested hand job from a hooker he knows while he tries to plumb the depths of his feelings about a pickle he’s in and which she continues while staring out the window, smoking and bored.
But they have other business to conclude before she leaves, and it’s to pass him a block of cocaine that he’s going to cut and resell to get himself out of trouble. As he drives off to pick up various passengers – from an off-duty cop who talks way too much to two giggly and flatulent party girls – we see through interstitial titles of phone messages on screen exactly what sort of trouble he’s in.
He’s married, and another woman is having his baby, and although she doesn’t expect him to step up and be a dad and partner, she at least wants a ride to the hospital for her check-up – the same one it turns out later his wife is a doctor at.
It’s a Woody Allen-esque comedy of romantic errors, except that there’s also a woman he’s had to stuff in his trunk who’s overdosed on what he thought was cocaine (it’s heroin), his hooker friend who sold it to him doesn’t want to know about it, and it all leads him to getting more and more dishevelled and stressed trying to hide his relationships with each woman from the other – trying desperately to text while he drives, screaming obscenities, punching the steering wheel and just wanting things to go right.
But for a movie with a single grainy camera pointing at a guy, Dash is surprisingly cinematic. Aside from being funny and anarchic, you’re surprised by how the story turns genuinely dark and then genuinely warm and wistful all at once. And the title sequences that bookend the film have an in your face 70s/80s grindhouse pastiche all their own.
Every emotional high and low is earned, there’s no fat in the script and it manages to tell its story eloquently and efficiently using the slightest of narrative tools, and if Locke hadn’t existed, you’d never have imagined you could be so interested in watching a guy drive around.