Running a ride share for some extra money at Christmas, time goes awry for Russell when he picks up the mysterious and frenetic Charlotte. The misadventures which follow turn increasingly criminal, and there’s a bizarre reason for Charlotte’s lack of care that could change Russell’s life even more than the crimes he has started to rack up.

Night Drive does a few things to an impressively high standard. LA is a character of its own here, shown in a much more interesting form than the sanitised generic shot-in-Atlanta version which is usually committed to film. There’s a clear love for the places the cast and crew grew up in which is showcased here: from the busy roads, to the tucked away bars, to the desert, and a few remote neighbourhoods they wanted to show off.  A. J. Bown and Sophie Dalah have great chemistry that leaps off of the screen whether they’re getting along or in conflict with each other, having been acting alongside each other helps here but they definitely have chemistry which could have broken the film had it not been present.

Being a film called Night Drive and centring on a ride share, you would be correct to assume there’s a lot of time spent in a car. This is made full use of within the confines of the plot, both in driving the humour home and also trapping Russell in events. A lot of horror and thriller movies can feel contrived in keeping a protagonist caught up in a situation, but Russell really does feel stuck with no easy way out here. At first economically, thanks to some misfortune that led to his car being his livelihood, then as he gets dragged deeper into events needing his car becomes a matter of hiding incriminating evidence. The technical aspect of filming while driving is an impressive feat itself here, a lot of the usual Hollywood short cuts are forgone for a more practical approach. The cast and crew made full use of a lot of custom rigs they developed themselves through no small amount of trial and error. This really puts the audience inside of the car with the key actors, as well as letting the actors give natural feeling performances.

There is also the matter of the twist, which would be criminal to spoil. In broad terms, the sequence of disasters leading up to this final reveal, and the fallout from it, hinge upon a generational gap. There are different fundamental philosophies at play. How someone youthful is much more carefree compared to someone older, wiser, and more broken by life’s disappointments underpins everything that happens in Night Drive. The Christmas setting becomes more than just set dressing here as the holidays reinforce a sense of magical realism which cushions the audience’s suspension of disbelief. All of which adds up to be a truly worthwhile experience, as the final twists elevate a crime escapade into something extraordinary.

Witty dialogue and increasingly bizarre events carry a Christmastide curiosity into a big twist. The actors bouncing off of each other alone would have made for a satisfying movie, but by the end, you will have some interesting philosophical questions to ponder. Come for the fun Night Drive around LA, and stay for the big twist it has in store for you.

We watched Night Drive as part of Grimmfest 2021.

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