From Kiss Me Deadly to Repo Man to Pulp Fiction, the suitcase/car boot with mysterious contents has a distinct lineage in Los Angeles-set cinema. Perhaps a cipher for the city’s legendary transience and elusive promises, another one shows up in this snarky low-budget crime thriller in the hands of Charlotte (Sophie Dalah). She does a runner with it from the house of an ex-boyfriend, instructing her ride-share driver Russell (AJ Bowen) to sit outside and keep the motor running.
This is just the first stop. Russell, in a white Porsche that is all that remains of his payout from prematurely selling his share of a successful app, is needled by the pretty, insouciant Australian he picks up. Initially flirtatious, Charlotte enjoys pushing the middle-aged man’s buttons. Then, after the unannounced suitcase heist, they hit and apparently kill a stranger in a parking lot. Her glib jokes and callous calculation are enough to make Russell wonder if, like a gig-economy version of Collateral, he has a psychopath on board.
Finally learning what is in the suitcase elevates this cosily cynical but hitherto largely conventional two-hander to a different level. It is a really good twist, one that gives Night Drive an instant edge; not only transforming our understanding of Charlotte’s behaviour, but also – in the Lynchian style – locating a glitch in the outwardly normal fabric of LA suburbia.
It’s a shame, in some ways, it arrives so late in the film. It would have been interesting to see where directors Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon – who also variously produced, photographed and edited – might have gone if they’d committed earlier to the idea and structured their film around it. Night Drive doesn’t quite have enough time left to build on sharp interlocking performances by Dalah and Bowen and give their characters the full noir shadings the suitcase coaxes out of them. But it’s still an intriguing alternative routeing for LA night-owl cinema.