DRIVEN (2019)


Studio:      Uncork¡¯d Entertainment
Director:    Glenn Payne
Writer:      Casey Dillard
Producer:  Casey Dillard, Glenn Payne
Stars:     Richard Speight Jr., Casey Dillard

Review Score:



A quirky rideshare driver picks up a mysterious passenger who inadvertently involves her in a deadly demon hunt.



Struggling stand-up comic Emerson would rather be working on her routine. Staring into her rearview mirror and speaking in a podcast-perfect cadence, Emerson rehearses observational bits about rescue dogs (¡°rescue is kind of a grandiose term for going and getting something that I already wanted¡±), people who celebrate their birthday all month long (¡°if my birthday falls during the same month, do I have to cancel mine?¡±), and unspoken passive-aggressive compliments (¡°your body is so fit, I wish that you would power walk right off a cliff¡±).

Emerson knows those jokes need work. Good thing she actually makes her money as a driver for a rideshare service called Ferry. As it turns out, summoning the courage to finally face her fear of an open mic pales in comparison to what she¡¯ll have to confront behind the wheel tonight.

Emerson¡¯s early evening consists of the usual flippant fares like a contentious couple, appearance-obsessed socialites desperate to take a perfect Instagram photo, and a napping drunkard who isn¡¯t sure if his destination should be Brookside or Brookwood. Then Emerson picks up Roger. Skittish and secretive, Roger makes stops at different locations all while keeping a mystery bag clutched tightly at his side.

Roger¡¯s odd behavior makes Emerson suspicious. When he comes back to her car covered in blood, Emerson¡¯s unease elevates to alarm. Before Emerson can call 911, Roger produces a knife and demands she keep driving. Emerson tries to get help from a cop too, but a crazed woman suddenly tackles the officer.

What¡¯s going on? Well, Roger is a demon hunter on the prowl for evil entities who¡¯ve cursed his family. Like it or not, Emerson landed smack in the middle of his midnight quest and now finds herself compelled to partner up for a wild ride she never could have imagined.

¡°Driven¡± comes billed as a horror-comedy, though the latter half of that label can be a bit deceptive. It¡¯s more descriptive to say the film gets a slight suntan from a ¡°comedic¡± vibe rather than shading the whole shebang under the broader umbrella of ¡°comedy,¡± if the subtle distinction between those two terms makes sense.

Emerson¡¯s dream job inherently opens the movie¡¯s mouth to touch a tongue to its cheek through her characterization. But the tone of the dramatic action isn¡¯t goofily cartoony in any tangible way. Sight-based gags don¡¯t make it onscreen much, so no one should expect pratfall antics along the lines of a ¡°Scary Movie¡± spoof or similarly silly measurement unit typically associated with ¡°horror-comedy.¡±

¡°Driven¡¯s¡± dry humor comes primarily from conversation. It¡¯s a dialogue-driven story, heavy on bickering and bantering to keep it bounding along. Actors Casey Dillard, who also wrote the screenplay, and Richard Speight Jr. keep their chemistry bubbling, although their back-and-forth sometimes plays weirdly when there isn¡¯t music underneath to help lighten the mood. Scenes often end up with just the two of them talking and since ¡°Driven¡± plays almost everything straight, levity doesn¡¯t always land through their words alone.

Overall entertainment boils down to how much you enjoy keeping company with these two people, because ¡°Driven¡± basically puts you alone in a car with Emerson and Roger for an hour and a half. That¡¯s not the claustrophobic death sentence it sounds like. For a single-location indie whose single location isn¡¯t even ten square feet, cinematographer Michael Williams¡¯ camera does a creative job of cutting to varied angles often. Being confined to Emerson¡¯s car doesn¡¯t become a big deal. Thanks to a few quick stops as well as copious cutaways to outdoor shots and side-mounted rigs, there¡¯s an unusual sense of openness about the limited location that makes the small production feel bigger than it is.

Richard Speight Jr.¡¯s fan following means the ¡°Supernatural¡± faithful will flock to ¡°Driven¡± with eager excitement. If his appeal attracts you to the film, you¡¯ll get plenty of what you came for.

As it is with any performer whose persona relies on a particular style of comedy, individual mileage may vary with Casey Dillard. Personally, Emerson/Dillard¡¯s wry brand of insecure self-deprecation strikes a relatable chord of awkwardly amusing affability. She¡¯s sassy and sarcastic, yet more comfortable in a shell that her life won¡¯t let her hide in. Spending time with her shtick is an easy sell, although she isn¡¯t going to hit every viewer¡¯s funny bone with the same strength.

Dillard¡¯s writing also clearly comes from the heart, perhaps a touch too much so. Likely reflective of personal struggles she might have been working through on paper, Dillard¡¯s script takes detours into musing about a broken heart romance that barely relates to the main arc. I still admire that Dillard dares to kill multiple birds with one project, even if ¡°Driven¡± fires in one too many directions. Distracting tangents aside, Dillard¡¯s witty words provide the movie with meat that the core duo grills with personable charm, which is good since so much of ¡°Driven¡± depends on their interactions being inviting.

¡°Driven¡± needs a few nudges to get all the way over. Director Glenn Payne does an alright job for a destined-for-DTV production, particularly with regard to impressively stretching limited resources regarding the overall look. But the film could use more vibrant flavors that more experienced staging, and a little more money, would bring.

Fights are choreographed with the convincingness of Adam West¡¯s Batman battling Burgess Meredith¡¯s Penguin. Possessed people are just Joe Shmoes, probably friends and family, wearing everyday clothes and tilting their heads oddly. Even the title could use an upgrade to add an influx of energy. We¡¯re not talking about a lot of cash to correct shortcomings. Invest a modest amount in monster makeup and that pinch of polish alone would warrant a review score bump.

At least ¡°Driven¡± isn¡¯t as rough around edges like acting, writing, execution, and certainly passion behind the camera. The film commits so completely to flimsy bits like a running gag about a ¡°turd spoon¡± that not surrendering to the persistence of its choppy charm seems to say more about one¡¯s own stubbornness than the movie¡¯s trouble at getting a grump to chuckle.

Review Score: 65