The taxi is a vehicle of transition. Customers enter them at one point and exit at another, hopefully leaving behind little more than their fare, with the driver serving as catalyst for change. This is why, in films as varied as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), Jim Jarmusch’s Night On Earth (1991), Gérard Pirès’ Taxi (1998; and Tim Story’s 2004 American reimagining), Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004), Julien Seri’s Night Fare (2015) and D.C. Hamilton’s The Fare (2018), the interior of a cab – or more recently of an Uber, as in Michael Dowse’s Stuber (2019) or now Glenn Payne’s Driven – lends itself so readily to observe characters in development. They start here, they end up there – and en route in between, in their interactions with the driver, they can reveal their origins and their goals, who they have been and who they want to be.
In Driven, it is the driver who is in need of change – and not just the kind that she is occasionally given in tips. Emerson Graham (played by the film’s screenwriter Casey Dillard) is a driver for Ferry – an Uber-like service – while practising stand-up comedy routines that she does not yet have the courage to perform live. One night she picks up a mysterious, satchel-bearing customer Roger (Richard Speight Jr.) on a time-sensitive mission to visit multiple addresses visits – and as she realises that this jittery man with no social graces appears to be engaged in acts of violence at each of his stops, the tension mounts. There is an explanation for what he is doing – but a deeply irrational one – and it is only when Emerson sees for herself the truth of his deranged-seeming stories about body-possessing demons that she starts to understand that, for all her lack of confidence or funds, she may just have a higher purpose in life.
“Imagine being a passenger in your own body,” says Roger, trying to describe the “loss of agency” involved in demonic possession in terms that a taxi driver can easily understand. Of course his words also describe the way that Emerson feels about her own life, stuck in an economic and emotional rut, and unable to fulfil her dream of doing comedy in public. Yet over this long, dark night of the soul, the rapport formed by this unlikely couple in their improbable operation brings plenty of its own comedy. Their opponents – merely “demons, for lack of a better term”, as Roger keeps insisting, as opposed to horned monsters – are SFX-free and schlubbily human in form. This may be a necessity of budget, but it also allows the film to stay focused on the two main characters and their conversations on the road, which are as much about their disappointments and hopes, qualities and flaws, as about the supernatural.
Roger may be the passenger, but this is ultimately Emerson’s journey, as she learns to overcome her own demons and take control of the wheel. The resulting ride, too low-key to be called wild exactly, is nonetheless funny and strange.
© Anton Bitel