Emerson Graham's nights as a cab driver are filled with annoyances and inconveniences, but until tonight, never attacks and disappearances. After picking up a mysterious passenger her evening goes from working a job to performing a quest as they must race against the clock to defeat a force of evil. The meter is running.
Starring Richard Speight Jr., Casey Dillard, Jaime Adams, Maddie Ludt, Jamie Fair, Mari Kenney. Directed by Glenn Payne.
WATCH THE TRAILER BELOW
STILLS FROM SET
I’m not going to outline the plot in this review. Anything that you haven’t gleaned from the trailer or from following Rich, Glenn and Casey feels a little too spoilery, so I’m just going to share my overall impression of the movie.
The ‘bottle episode’ has become a staple of episodic television. Shows as diverse as Friends, The Sopranos, Firefly and Supernatural have experimented (with varying degrees of success) with the concept of a character driven episode shot in a single location with minimal guest players.
Driven goes one further with the concept by presenting a ‘bottle movie’. An essentially two-handed piece, shot almost entirely inside a car.
For a character study, this would be a challenge. For a high concept genre movie, it’s ambitious to the point of lunacy (Wind Chill, with Emily Blunt, attempted something similar back in 2007, but that movie widened its field of play beyond the car to an extent that Driven never does).
It *really* shouldn’t work.
Yet it does. Beautifully.
One of the biggest reasons why, for me, lies in the character of Emerson. As written and played by Casey Dillard, she’s whip smart funny, with just the right mix of sarcasm and self-doubt to make her deeply relatable. To me, at least. Though I wish I was half that witty. The movie wisely gives us some quality time with her before introducing Roger, so that we are laughing and rolling our eyes along with her by the time they meet.
A character like Em needs a strong scene partner. In Roger, Emerson gets the foil she deserves. With Roger, Glenn and Casey have given Richard Speight Jr his most appealing movie character yet. Quite simply, it’s the perfect role to showcase his particular cocktail of born leader, frenetic goofball and supportive good guy. As you would imagine, he brings a huge amount of energy to the humorous elements of the script, but he’s particularly effective in the gentler moments where Roger and Emerson really connect.
It’s a necessity of the script that Rich is given a fairly large amount of expositional dialogue, which I’ve always deemed to require a particular skillset to deliver without trying an audience’s patience (Anthony Stewart Head in Buffy is the benchmark for me). Rich alternates between an underplayed, almost weary, accepting-of-his-lot yada yada yada tone and self-important ‘I’m the chosen one’ style declarations, making the exposition high in comedy value.
Roger is definitely one of those movie characters you lose your heart to. For someone who’s seen some very dark things and bravely stepped up, he’s delightfully awkward and endearing. And he is introduced to the story in series of moody close-ups so lovingly framed I was left wondering if Glenn and/or cinematographer Michael Williams has a bigger Rich crush than I do.
Which brings me to the style of the picture. Because despite being shot on a tiny budget, Driven looks incredibly stylish. For a movie set entirely at night, the screen often pops with colour. It also sounds good. Aside from an atmospheric and emotive score by Matthew Steed, there are a couple of lovely songs that feature as Emerson’s radio playlist, including input from Virginian folk duo The Tide Rose. (On that note, someone needs to clue Roger up on that classic Supernatural line about driver and shotgun).
For a movie that’s set in an Uber-esque environment, Driven does often feel oddly old-fashioned. That’s in no way a criticism. It’s simply that to me, the focus on character interaction owes more to screwball comedy than horror comedy. Emerson and Roger bicker and banter like Tracy and Hepburn.
That said, there are hugely modern elements that made me do a tiny fist-pump in my lap in the cinema.
There’s a moment where Emerson talks with Roger about her ex, Jess. A fairly unisex name. And it shows just how conditioned I am to horror written by straight male writers that there was a beat where I waited for Roger to assume Jess was a guy, and then make a ‘Mmm, that’s hot’ reaction face when he realised this was an all-girl situation. I know Casey better than that, yet it was still my reflex. And that demonstrates so starkly why we need more women creators and more representation in movies, especially genre movies. That moment of quiet, simple acceptance was *huge* for me.
And once it’s revealed that one of Emerson’s previous loves was a guy, it would be easy to expect that this odd couple with the sparky chemistry would be sucking face before the credits roll. But again, the screenplay defies expected tropes. They are allowed to be two cute humans who respect and care for each other to the point of risking their lives, without those pesky swimsuit parts getting a look-in. Refreshing.
So there you have it.
I had a lot of hope invested in this movie. To the point that even expected to be a little disappointed once I’d finally seen it. But it delighted and amused me more than I could ever have hoped. One scene even made me teary. It’s a small film with big ideas, big laughs and an even bigger heart. I fully expect many fandom viewers to see themselves in Emerson, who has demons of her own to defeat.
One last thing, the movie may have screened at FrightFest but don’t let that scare you. Driven isn’t bloody or violent. It delivers jumps scares and dark humour. If you can handle SPN levels of horror, buckle up and enjoy.
Our Interviews with the Creators of Driven
Fanworld: You are involved in many aspects of film making – acting, writing, directing. Which one do you find the most rewarding?
Glenn: Hmm… I suppose they’re all rewarding in their own way. Directing is definitely my first passion, but it’s also the one that takes the most years off of your life. Piles and piles of stress. :) If we were talking about an “in the moment” feeling I’d go with acting. You do the work and you can feel how it landed right when it’s done, whether it’s on a stage or a set. Whereas, the others take a good while to reach the viewer.
Fanworld: Tell us a little about how you and Glenn started to work together.
Casey: We met when our city’s first improv team (West of Shake Rag) was starting up. He thought I was a good actor and asked me to be in a movie that he was working on and as the years went by we became more and more collaborative. I have hundreds of stories about the path to this team-up as it exists today, but I don’t think you want a five page answer.
Fanworld: How would you pitch Driven to the uninitiated?
Richard: “Driven” is clever, it’s a quirky and unique ride, a lighthearted suspense thriller that represents all that is cool and fun about indie film.
Describe Casey with one word.
Describe Richard with one word.
One word to describe Glenn
One word to describe Richard
One word to describe Casey
One word to describe Glenn
Driven had its international premier August Bank Holiday 2019 at FrightFest. The Arrow Video FrightFest is the UK’s largest international genre movie festival, showcasing the very best in new horror, sci-fi and thriller cinema. Driven exhibited in the World Discovery category. Both Glenn and Casey were in attendance for the Leicester Square screening, joined by Matthew Steed, UK based composer of the movie’s atmospheric soundtrack. Also in attendance for the sold out show was a strong showing of Richard fans, some of whom had made journeys from outside the UK to support Team Turdspoon.