VOD film review: Night Drive (2021)
Cast and LA by night7
…that come too late5
Ian Winterton | On 23, Dec 2021
Director: Brad Baruh, Meghan Leon
Cast: AJ Bowen, Sophie Dalah, Scott Poythress
For a low-budget thriller, there’s a lot about Night Drive that’s impressive. As director Brad Baruh showed us in 2017’s effective slasher Dead Night, he’s adept at spinning a watchable and lean yarn from a very small amount of thread. Another major component is Meghan Leon who, as well as editing (as she did on Dead Night), is credited with writing, producing and co-directing.
Judging by their filmographies, both Leon and Baruh make their primary living working on behind-the-scenes documentaries for Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm, and being embedded with such story-machine behemoths perhaps explains why the screenplay for Night Drive is such an accomplished piece.
Like many a good thriller, it begins with a simple premise: ride-share driver Russell (AJ Bowen) – a middle-aged man whose life has imploded, his Porsche all that remains of his formerly wealthy life – picks up Charlotte (Sophie Dalah), a young woman who is both fiercely independent and – the signs are there early on – unhinged. Having paid Russ to wait outside her ex’s house, she emerges – running – having stolen a suitcase. The need to know what’s inside the case – both for Russ in the film, and the audience, becomes a surreal Repo Man-style metaphor for capitalism and story-telling.
This would be fine as a meta-MacGuffin – in Repo Man, in a trick later recycled in Pulp Fiction, we never discover what the case actually contains because it’s not the point of the movie. But the suitcase in Night Drive, like the movie as a whole, turns out not to be anything that clever – although it is at least a jaw-dropping shock.
Unfortunately, this comes very late in the day, after we’ve sat through a very prosaic series of dark – and blood-soaked – misunderstandings. It’s a shame because the violent gear change is pretty inspired and, had it come at the midpoint, could have made Night Drive an instant cult classic. As it is, the viewer spends the final few minutes of the movie wishing they’d pulled this out of the bag earlier, and then built on it.
It’s a real shame – especially as the misstep could have been rectified at script stage – because the dialogue is snappy, and the two leads (both of whom shone in Baruh’s Dead Night) are fantastic. The evocation of LA by night is great too, like a scuzzy, lo-fi cousin to Michael Mann’s similarly themed Collateral.
But, ultimately, by the time we reach the more inspired ideas, the movie has become confused and repetitive – and spending the last 10 minutes restructuring the script in one’s head is not an optimum moviegoing experience. The result is definitely worth a watch, but prepare to be mildly disappointed.