Christmastime in super sunny California immediately seems like an unusual backdrop for a horror thriller, but the location and time of year do not matter because the main setting occurs within a car. Since the creation of rideshare apps, news stories and social media posts warn about the dangers of getting into a car with a stranger. Young women in particular must pay attention to their surroundings and stay vigilant when accepting a ride from a man. And while NIGHT DRIVE touches on these fears, the premise of the movie takes a hard turn in a different direction as the two hapless main characters explore the idea of the road not taken.
Russell (AJ Bowen) drives people around the city as part of an Uber-esque app called Jaunt. He’s been driving for about eight months and over this time he developed quite a rapport with his customers and demonstrates his chatting abilities when he picks up his passenger Charlotte (Sophie Dalah) one night. Charlotte also exudes charm and humor, and while the driver and his fare hit it off, the young woman offers a lot of mystery when she asks Russ to wait for her and gets him to agree with a few $100 bills. While inside her supposed destination, Charlotte grabs a small suitcase from an ex and then convinces Russell to flee the scene. Not a pleasant way to end the night, but Charlotte convinces Russ to tag along for some more fun. The two have a natural chemistry and create a comfortable atmosphere within the rideshare. The jokes and insults go back and forth as the two get to know each other, so any suspicions get pushed to the side.
However, the fun night out becomes a nightmare when Russ accidentally hits someone with his car and the charismatic Charlotte convinces him to cover up the crime and hide the body. Russ, obviously, becomes a bit unsettled by the situation while cool, calm, and collected Charlotte acts like vehicular manslaughter is no big deal. The dark-comedy aspect of the film shows up as we see the lengths some men will go to if a pretty young girl mocks them. Taking on similar aspects of a buddy-cop film, Russ and Charlotte become reluctant partners in crime.
Charlotte does not come off as malicious and abusive (per se) towards Russ because her playful banter in a normal situation would be endearing. However, while in the process of covering up a murder she comes off as a bit strong and Russ has no choice but to go along for the ride. He never acts like a hostage (even when he gets a gun in his face) and his eight months of driving Jaunt make him a very agreeable getaway driver as his accommodating nature makes him easily fall in line next to Charlotte. Previously playing small characters in You’re Next and The House of the Devil, Bowen’s rise to the main character in a film with a minimal cast really lets the actor show his abilities. In his personality, Bowen demonstrates a high level of wit and in appearance, he looks like a cuddly version of Henry Rollins.
Even without snow or a merry message to leave us warm and fuzzy, NIGHT DRIVE keeps a festive spirit with its use of colors. Christmas lights speckle the nighttime landscape, but we also see holiday colors adorning the inside of the hardware store, and let’s not forget the jolly red and blue lights of the cop car. Lit dramatically for a night film, the cinematographer/director Brad Baruh appropriately uses streetlights and headlights to guide the two characters on their dark adventure.
And while the movie seems like a pretty straightforward trip from Point A to Point B, the story takes quite the detour in act three, which completely changes the entire film. The twist comes up suddenly and very unexpectedly, and most of all, knowing the ending makes any rewatch of the film take a really different route. With some fun travel companions, driving tension, and an enjoyable u-turn into the realm of sci-fi, NIGHT DRIVE takes the viewer on an unexpected road trip, which will hopefully make this film a new option for holiday horror.
NIGHT DRIVE will pull into theaters and Video On Demand on August 6th from Dark Sky Films.