Cop Car: Jon Watts’ Follow-Up to The Horrifying Clown is an Exercise in Tension [Review]

by | Aug 25, 2015

From Focus Features and Director Jon Watts comes the independent thriller Cop Car. Starring Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford and Shea Whigham, the film is currently playing in a limited theatrical run.

Cop Car Movie Poster

A pair of ten-year-olds find an abandoned cop car in a field. When they take it for a joyride, it seems like they could kill themselves at any moment. But things only get worse when the small town sheriff goes looking for his missing car. The kids find themselves in the center of a deadly game of cat and mouse they don’t understand and the only way out is to go as fast as their cop car can take them.

If you didn’t know what Cop Car was a couple months ago, you know now because of director Jon Watts getting pegged to take over the upcoming Spider-Man film. The director is relatively new to the game, but his 2014 debut – the horrifying ‘Clown’ (remember that trailer? yeah you do) was actually a better film than Cop Car and one of the better horror films of the past couple years. Watts is a promising talent and really knows how to nail the tone and atmosphere of a film correctly.

A scene from Jon Watts' COP CAR, playing at the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 23 - May 7 2015.

The introduction to Cop Car finds two kids wandering the forests after seemingly running away from home until they stumble upon a police car out in the woods. The first half hour of Cop Car is true genius and even though there is little dialog, the way Watts directs these two young kids as they grab this abandoned vehicle and take it on an epic joyride is a lot of fun to watch. The way they discover how the car moves, all the way to how fast they can get it up to, is fascinating because they really have no idea how to do it. One of them says he can drive this thing because he’s played Mario Kart.

When we meet the moustachio’d Kevin Bacon we find out what’s really going on with that empty vehicle and great choice giving him that signature small town police stache by the way — as if we needed to make the actor even creepier…. Bacon’s character barely says anything for a half hour but he doesn’t need to. We ultimately know all of his motivations simply from his actions and the distress that he’s been put in after he returns to find his police vehicle missing. Simple premise – brilliantly executed.

Cop Car is suspenseful in the same way No Country For Old Men was as you’ll learn in the second half when the movie takes several dark turns. I was taken back when some of the more violent and jarring moments unfolded. It was just fun and games earlier when the boys were trying to take shots at one another to test out a bullet proof vest — terrifying — but it was done with a darkly comedic undertone. When they pop the cop car’s trunk, the movie begins to raise the stakes significantly.

Some viewers could get annoyed watching Bacon try to jack a parked car by dangling his shoelace through a crack in the window, but it’s these simple little moments that make Cop Car an interesting exercise in building suspense. Is there an actual action scene later? Sure there is, but I appreciate Watts’ decision to spend more time on the little moments because they help build character.


If I had to fault the film, it would be the abrupt ending. It’s so abrupt that it takes away from the experience tremendously and that’s a damn shame. I get it — you’re letting us fill in the blanks and it’s probably not too far of a stretch to do so, but after the film had literally just taken so many unexpected dark turns, maybe filling in that blank isn’t good enough. Because who knows — maybe everybody does die — maybe another cow decides to wander onto the road during the race back to town. You can’t leave us hanging so hard Watts — not after all of that.

Rating: [star rating=”3″]