29th Mar2021

Cinequest 2021: ‘Drive All Night’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Yutaka Takeuchi, Lexy Hammonds, Sarah Dumont, Johnny Gilligan | Written and Directed by Peter Hsieh

Drive All Night follows Dave (Yutaka Takeuchi), a reclusive swing-shift taxi driver, whose night takes an unexpected turn after he picks up a mysterious passenger, Cara (Lexy Hammonds), a young woman hiding a dark secret. She makes him drive around the city without a clear destination or motive, and has him accompany her on a number of bizarre excursions – each one stranger than the next. Things get increasingly more surreal the further into the night they go, as Dave begins to learn about Cara and her troubled past. Unbeknownst to the pair, Lenny (Johnny Gilligan), an obsessive hitman, is hunting them, guided by strange visions and instructions from a powerful mob boss. Every place he visits brings him one step closer. Will Lenny catch up to Dave and Cara? What happens when the night ends?

Drive All Night undoubtedly takes influence from the aesthetic of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and the surrealism of David Lynch’s work… It’s also reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (itself very much influenced by film noir tropes): the same manic characters, the same manic situations, a story told over the course of a night, etc. only here writer/director Peter Hsieh amps up the surrealism… Yet the central theme, the core story of our hero, is still the same: it’s a journey of self-discovery for Dave. He’s a recluse who likes to live under the radar but that’s a life without passion, without excitement – and this one night gives him all that and shows him just what’s he’s missing from life.

It’s an intriguing mix that, honestly, makes for compelling viewing. Hsieh really brings the audience along for the ride too. Starting out with the character introductions – first Cara, then Dave and then Lenny; each with their own interesting quirks and foibles which hook you from the get-go. The fact that Hsieh then interweaves their stories in such a way that feels organic and never forced; the antithesis of the way these types of types of story are sometimes presented, is to be commended. What’s also commendable is the remarkable way in which – in a mere 15 minutes – Hsieh has you in the palm of his hand. You want to see where this is going, you NEED to know what’s unfolding. Drive All Night really is remarkably compelling viewing. And that intrigue, that desire to know what’s going on, only continues throughout the film – the story eked out slowly and with aplomb.

But it’s not just the story and direction that are a success, the cinematography by William Hellmuth (which features the best use of light, shade and colour blocking outside of Italian genre filmmaking of the 80s IMHO) and the music by Robert Daniel Thomas go a long way to make Drive All Night what it is – the neon hues matched perfectly by the synthwave soundtrack – giving this the feel of an 80s thriller, like Refn’s aformentioned movie, whilst never setting the film in that decade (mobile phones sit side-by-side with old-school arcades for example). It’s a stylistic choice that really works, setting a distinct mood that adds level-upon-level to Hsieh’s film!

However at its core Drive All Night is always about Cara and Dave, passenger and driver respectively, and how the relationship between the two evolves over the course of the night. And there’s some brilliantly observed conversations between the two as well – touching on various video game franchises and their history; the idea of vengeance and revenge as seen through a meme. Then there’s the trip to watch “Midnight Judy”, a singer who only performs at night between 12am and 1am (because she either has an allergy to sunlight or she’s a vampire), whose performance seemingly unlocks something in Dave – the film descending, and not for the first time, into a surreal artistic vision that looks part Twilight Zone, part David Lynch!

And that’s the thing with Drive All Night. Writer and director Peter Hsieh obviously had a very particular vision for this film, on that – on paper – probably read like some kind of odd fever-dream. Yet it works, it ALL works. The characters, their behaviour; the surreal visions and people’s bizarre actions; the cinematography, the soundtrack… and ultimately the POSSIBLE explanation as to what’s actually happening in this film (which is really, and brilliantly, open to interpretation… there’s a very good reason for using the term “fever dream” to describe the movie, believe me). Everything comes together to make for one of the most inriguing, individual and outstanding films I’ve seen in eons. More please Mr. Hsieh!

***** 5/5

Drive All Night screened as part of this years Cinequest Film Festival, which takes place March 20th – March 30th 2021


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