The new film Driven, written by and starring Casey Dillard, is schizophrenic, to say the least. Is it a supernatural thriller? A relationship comedy? A soul-searching drama? Why not make it all three?
Dillard stars as Emerson, a driver for an Uber-type company who’d just experienced a painful breakup with her ex-girlfriend. An aspiring standup comedian, she practices her routine in the visor mirror as she drives the nighttime streets. At first, the film is reminiscent of the play Hellcab. In fact, Driven feels very much like it originated as a play.
Fares come and go, and Emerson’s reaction to all of them is coolly courteous. Incorporating them into her standup routine, her ripostes to the mirror — and the viewer — are sporadically funny.
Then a twitchy, mysterious man (Richard Speight, Jr.) enters the cab and asks her to drive him to several different destinations. He refuses to tell her his name or what he’s doing in town, except that he’s “visiting a few old friends.” Anything she tries to ask him is met with stoicism, and she’s getting seriously creeped out.
He tells her to wait while he goes into various places. So self-absorbed is Emerson in her own angst, she fails to notice that he’s committing acts of mayhem at every stop. But when he returns to the car, bloodied and brandishing a knife, she certainly pays attention. “Don’t kill me!”, she implores. “Don’t kill anybody!”
She’s pulled over by a cop for driving erratically, but before she can plead her case, he is suddenly yanked away by an unknown force. Then a sinister-looking woman pops up, smiling demonically at Emerson. Her passenger urges her to drive away as fast as she can.
He finally introduces himself as Roger and explains that the cop was attacked by a demon, “for lack of a better word.” Evidently, Roger’s family has been pursued by these evil creatures for years, and it’s his job tonight to eliminate them once and for all.
He pleads with Emerson to help him in his quest. At first, she thinks he’s a psycho, but a couple more attacks convince her that this may be real. She decides to aid him on his quest, and they become demon hunting partners.
Here’s where the film goes off the rails. The demons are about as scary as the naked zombies in the inexplicably overrated It Follows, and Driven becomes sort of an awkward relationship comedy with occasional jolts of horror.
Roger becomes a threat no more — he’s passive, in fact. Mountains of confessional dialogue are spouted, and the whole demon theory plays like a metaphor for the “demons” that are torturing Emerson. All these metaphors start to become clubfooted.
Particularly problematic is the dialogue. The script is crisp and funny at the beginning, but it becomes tedious in the long run. There are only so many “turd spoon” gags you can pull, and this film exceeds them.
And when Emerson picks up her ex-girlfriend, only to confront her about her heartache over their breakup, she abandons her on the street that she knows is dangerous to go and pick up Roger, whom she’d earlier abandoned.
Overall, the performances by Dillard and Speight are fine. The nighttime cinematography by Michael Williams is Taxi Driver slick, and Matthew Steed’s music is rich. Director Glenn Payne helms the project with skill, but it’s a pity that the story is so mishmash.
This year’s Drunk Bus, which is similarly themed (bus driver is forced to get over his heartache and return to the land of the living) had a much better idea of its destination.
Driven premieres June 16 on DVD and Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment.
Feature photo: Casey Dillard as Emerson.