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Cop Car

Year: 2015
Production Co: Audax Films
Director: John Watts
Writer: John Watts/Christopher D Ford
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Hays Welford, James Freedson-Jackson

There's a noirish, Hitchcockian quality to Cop Car that's very enjoyable as it peels back the layers of a small-town crime at a leisurely pace. There's been a drug deal between a corrupt sheriff (Kevin Bacon) and two scumbags, a double cross and some bloodshed – with more to come.

That much is clear (although it isn't completely revealed until what feels like about half an hour in), but seen through the eyes of two young locals, Travis (James Freedman-Jackson) and Harrison (Hays Wellford), director John Watts and co-writer Christopher D Ford's stripped back, no-nonsense script doesn't bother telling you much more, and even then only when the kids see or understand it.

We're introduced to them as the film opens, walking across seemingly endless farmland somewhere in the southern US, dragging sticks and lazily swapping the swear words they know like they're only half interested in the conversation.

When they crest a small rise in the grassy fields near some woods and see a cop car under a tree, they immediately hide, sure they'll be in trouble for something. What comes next is a classic childhood tale of the boys goading each other into ever-higher bravado like throwing rocks, running up to touch it and eventually opening the door.

Somewhat implausibly, they not only find the keys, they also start the car before Travis – the braver of the pair – decides they should go for a joyride.

We leave the boys driving all over the fields having a great time before cutting back to the same shady glade where we find out how the cop car got there. The sheriff pulls up, casually opens a beer and proceeds to pull a dead body from the trunk before dragging it through the nearby woods, dumping it down a well and covering it with limestone.

When he returns to his parking spot, satisfied his troubles are over, the car is gone – taken by Travis and Harrison in the sequence we've already seen. What comes next is an American Gothic thriller that's both more tense and far funnier than you expect as the Sheriff has to try and contact Travis and Harrison and convince them to bring his car back without the dispatcher or his deputies twigging to what's going on.

The boys have already driven the car past a hapless motorist who can't believe her eyes and subsequently raises the alarm, and they get a glimpse into the dangerous world they've stepped into when a thump from the back of the car reveals the brother of the dead guy in the trunk as well – bound and beaten to a pulp, desperately trying to get the boys to untie him.

The story succeeds in keeping you involved because of the speed at which it unfolds and the point of view (that of the kids) it uses to reveal itself. It's so unconcerned with backstory it's hard to remember if the main characters are even named aloud in the movie, but it's a mash-up of styles and genres where all the pieces fit and doesn't ask too much of you (including taking sides) as it spins a dark and more-than-slightly comic tale.

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