Cop Car / Jon Watts / 2015 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Kevin Bacon; Tonal balance; Structural precision
Side Effects: Lack of dynamic variation; Slight, insubstantial feel

[Cop Car will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on September 29th.]

A satisfying and successful independent genre film, Cop Car moves with precision and focus.

Wandering through the woods outside a rural southern town, two young boys stumble upon the titular vehicle. Hesitant at first, they approach and become incrementally more entangled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The car belongs to a dirty local sheriff (Kevin Bacon) who, unbeknownst to the boys, was burying a body nearby when they decided to take it on a joyride. Desperate to retrieve his car and cover his tracks, the sheriff sets off to intercept the kids with a frightening zeal.

Most of Cop Car proceeds along these parallel narrative lines, neatly drawn by first-time director Jon Watts and co-writer Christopher D. Ford. Alternating between the rambunctious boys—in farther over their heads than they realize—and the unhinged sheriff, the film builds tension waiting for the two halves to collide. This sub-90 minute amuse-bouche of a movie is admirably streamlined, if a bit insubstantial.

Aided by a fun score by Phil Mossman, Cop Car‘s best trick is reaching a tricky tonal balance between danger and excitement on the one hand, and childlike innocence and a light touch of humor on the other. Another recent indie triller, Blue Ruin, achieved a similar mix, and the pitch feels just right for this tight little film.

Kevin Bacon attacks the role with relish, and delivers nice work imbuing the sheriff with menace on top of an almost comedic desperation. The film also does a particularly sensitive job writing for the two children. It convincingly captures the aimlessness, bickering, insecurity and one-ups-manship of young friendships, a dynamic I think will feel familiar to most ex-hellraiser boys.

As a breezy slice of midnight movie pleasure and an indication of Watts’ talents as a structurally-atuned screenwriter and director, Cop Car is a fun ride.