An absorbing watch that relies on tight scripting and the interplay between its core performers.
Synopsis: A ride share driver’s life is turned upside down after an unexpected series of misfortunes.
Seeing a film set at Christmas time and starring both AJ Bowen and Scott Poythress definitely attracted my attention, calling to mind the casting and setup for the excellent I Trapped The Devil. Night Drive is a very different film, although does share some of the same sensibilities, putting a lot on the performers to carry the story, but also complicates things by the narrative involving a car journey, isolating the characters and forcing them to bridge the generational (and later, moral) gap as they journey.
Russell (AJ Bowen) is a ride-share driver whose expensive car hints at his previous experience as an app developer. Unfortunately, a decision to sell too early meant that his buyout was minimal, setting in motion a chain of events that has cost him his marriage and previous lifestyle. He settles into the drudgery of his new role until his pattern is interrupted by Charlotte (Sophie Dalah) a troubled woman who quickly throws his night into chaos.
Night Drive feels like a careful blend of genre elements, fusing together the kind of ‘hangout horror’ that keeps locations minimal and dialogue punchy, but doesn’t stray away from darkly comic elements and lashings of gore where necessary. To say any more about the direction this takes would head too far into spoiler territory, but there is something that offers a dramatic departure that is very well handled while still under some clear budget restrictions. Bowen and Dalah feel almost effortless in their roles, shifting from an unusual, concerned relationship into a more spiky negotiation.
Meghan Leon takes on co-directing and writing here, sharing directing duties with Brad Baruh, both contributing to a film that will keep the viewer guessing all the while. Cleverly peppered phrases and actions will reward multiple viewings, threading everything so while some will find the film’s trajectory surprising, it does all manage to hang together convincingly. There are moments where it feels like the film treads water somewhat, as if it is almost too worried about pulling the trigger on its more left-field moves. Once it overcomes that hesitation, it heads back on track with renewed energy, but that lull is noticeable.
An appealing, darkly comic thriller with two first-rate performances make this a drive worth settling in for.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Night Drive plays as part of Grimmfest 2021. See the Grimmfest page for more information.