Cop Car starts off in an unassuming manner. Two children, no older than ten, are traversing an open field while counting off swear words to each other. It becomes almost a game, a race to see who can out-curse the other. The camera is set at a distance, the wide-angle lens capturing the expansive, beautiful terrain. It’s not long before we get to know these kids, not in an intimate matter (although that will come) but just close enough for them to feel real. What is most refreshing is that this is not achieved through explicit dialogue. Rather, director Jon Watts and his co-writer Christopher D. Ford manage to give the children depth through both their actions and telling but natural dialogue.
While continuing their trek through the field to their wooded destination, we learn that the children have run away from home. No reason is supplied but given the manner in which Watts has his actors behave, it would seem that the experience is nothing more than that: a plan of two bored and imaginative children. Their journey is halted, however, when the sight of a cop car appears on the horizon. Jumping to conclusions, the children think that the car is (of course) looking for them. When reason settles in, fear turns to mischievousness as Travis and Harrison dare each other to run up and touch the car. Its moments like these — littered throughout the film — that really imbues Cop Car with a wholesome reality. Travis rushes to the car, touches it, and quickly runs away, as if the car is going to spring to life in order to enact revenge. This reaction is later repeated when Travis and Harrison muster up the courage to finally enter the car and turn the keys in the ignition. As the engine begins to rev, the children run in fear, only emerging moments later when it is clear that everything is safe.
Cut to early that day, Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) is struggling to drag a bound, dead body from the trunk of his patrol car and out into the woods to bury him. When he returns to the car in order to retrieve the second body, he is overcome with fear at the sight of an empty field. The remainder of the film pegs the unwitting children against Kretzer, desperate and willing to go to any odds to have his car returned and his corruption hidden. Thus begins the start of a series of unfortunate events for the two children, a joyride turned bloody and bleak.
Following a lengthy run with internet-distributed films, Jon Watts made his theatrical debut with the Eli Roth-starring/produced film Clown. However, Cop Car in many ways will luckily be Watts introduction to many fans. In fact, the film’s momentum has already help to peg him as the director in the next Spider-Man reboot. Its easy to see why, with Cop Car, Watts has shown a strong proclivity for seamlessly blending elements of fantasy and reality. The film appeals to both the child and adults within all of us. This is where Cop Car is its strongest. A playful throwback, the film is best described as Stand By Me meets No Country for Old Men. In its equal effort to both pay homage to while simultaneously revising genre films of the past, Cop Car feels both fresh and familiar. Led by brilliant performances across the board (especially from the two young boys), Jon Watts delivers a rare treat, an adult themed film starring children. Cop Car is as close as 2015 has seen to an unpretentious, non-ironic tribute to the 80s, a must-see film for the year.
Cop Car is in select theaters via Focus Features starting August 7th