PANIC BUTTON (2011)
Directed by Chris Crow
The internet is all about sharing content, but then would you want your content shared? This, in a nutshell, is the premise for writer/ director Chris Crow’s second feature length movie. Originally released in 2011, then recently remastered/ rereleased, Panic Button bills itself as the UK’s first social media shocker. Yet I’d never heard of it until I saw it going as part of a deal in HMV. Ahead of its time at first, and now arguably behind the curve, it seems it must have slipped through the net. Which is unfortunate, as it means some of its impact has inevitably diminished in the wake of things like Black Mirror, Unfriended, Friend Request and Truth or Dare (all of which share plot and theme elements with it). No, its approach dating doesn’t make it worse – although it does mean there’s more for new viewers to compare it with. And it’s also a bit like The Killing Room which came out first.
Anyway, in this not totally unique universe, Zuckerberg either didn’t exist or was a bit of an underachiever – either that or he got beaten to the negative emojis. Instead, All2gethr is seemingly the hippest social media site on the go, and definitely the most generous. Courtesy of them, four strangers have won an all expenses trip from Old Blighty to The Big Apple in a private jet so swag there’s a tele in the bog. Then there’s the inflight entertainment. To pass the time, and to win some great New York goodies, the flying foursome partake in a Q & A game hosted by a cartoon alligator. It should be dead easytoo, since it’s based on their net history. But as sure as what goes up must come down, in horror what starts as banter soon takes a dark turn. The questions get more personal than expected and after refreshingly little down time their deepest secrets are shared. You can bet they’re all wishing they hadn’t mindlessly clicked through the terms and conditions (although, to be fair, who reads those?) What makes it worse is there’s no way out – not many places to run on an airplane. And there are severe consequences for not playing, including a bad arrival. As such, the descent into madness won’t be a huge surprise.
Panic Button is a cautionary tale about being careful what you click and plays on the fear of exposure. This universal source of tension is perhaps somewhat undermined by the extreme secrets the characters have (and they do get pretty grim if what you’d expect from the themes). As per classic slashers working off the assumption audiences shared victims’ vices for sex, weed and bad clothes, this sort of movie is maybe scariest by dialing it back. But that being said, I suspect Chris Crow is more interested in crafting a fun, high octane thriller than an all-out horror. Sure, from the premise it’d be easy to dismiss Panic Button as Saw in the clouds, but anyone excepting some torture air-borne will be disappointed. They won’t necessarily be the only ones though. See that star rating at the bottom? By the end of the first act I fully expected to give at least one more. It was excellent, doing well to create intrigue and perfectly judging the group’s switch from uneasy laughs to terror. I enjoyed gradually learning who these people are, and the for the first hour or so the reveals are successfully teased out – I felt in the hands of a master. Seeing them squirm, and being punished for their flaws is a genuine joy – particularly lecherous Dave (Jibson). Admittedly, for such a small core cast I found the characters surprisingly underdeveloped, being defined mostly by their worst characteristics. However, given the movie’s frantic pace, which is maintained throughout, it wasn’t necessarily a problem as they were more than functional. Moreover, the acting was such that you could emotionally invest enough to wish them a pleasant flight.
What was less forgivable was the formulaic third act. It relies on workmanlike twists and pushing the game aspect into the periphery for a combo of unnecessary fisty-cuffs and an all too preachy confrontation. Worse, attempts to inject more tension into the game via special tasks for each player falls on its arse. The action quickly becomes repetitive and the new stakes pale in comparison to the grave situation they’re already in. I expect most of the audience will have devised their own scenarios for how it’d play out about 30 minutes in, and i dare say many would beat what the large writing team have come up with. The closing scenes characterise the threat more but in doing so they make cool concept becomes less interesting when we find out what the core cast have in common. Such a heavy handed finale also, unintentionally, amplifies how preposterous the villain’s plan has been all along. Oddly the more it attempts to humanise them the sillier the whole thing becomes. I’d like to say it’s just a bumpy ride, but unfortunately Panic Button crashes on landing.