I was never the sociable type. I mean, I never got so bad that the authorities would have me on a Blacklist or that I’d end up in a shack in Montana snaring rabbits and waiting for the black helicopters, but I was never the beer-drinking, black book full of dozens of names type either. I had one or two friends in high school, mostly people with whom I shared a love of science fiction and horror movies, Star Trek and such. But even after I left high school and entered the real world, I wasn’t one to go out for drinks at the local bar with co-workers, I much preferred to stay in and watch films, or occasionally go to the movies (that I suffer from gout and so can only have the occasional tipple was an additional factor).
The Internet and Social Media Phenomena came much later for me, but I’m tremendously glad that it showed up at all, especially for younger generations who might feel isolated because of their race, their sexuality, their appearance or their love of heavy metal. You might not know of anyone in your neighbourhood who feels or thinks like you do, but you’re sure to find a kindred spirit in Sacramento, Edinburgh, Osaka or Cairo. Hell, thanks to the Internet, I met my present partner, and made a good friend in Scott here on Anythinghorror. I won’t deny the negative aspects of Social Media, however – the cyberbullying, the threat from paedophiles, the racist, sexist and homophobic groups that can also assemble, the endless Facebook ads – but find me an aspect of life without its drawbacks, and I’ll show you the secret lab beneath Stepford.
But despite this fundamental change to the way we all work and shop and study and communicate, I remain the housebound type, even on occasions like New Year’s Eve. Don’t believe me? It’s ten o’clock on New Year’s Eve, and I’m on the couch with my better half, each of us on our respective laptops, and I’m writing this review while she buys and sells things on Ebay. To me, that’s preferable to being stuck in a crowded pub trying to get served and avoid a fight, or waiting in the cold and rain outside for a stupid fireworks display.
So it’s inevitable that this change in our lifestyles would be reflected in the movies, including horror movies, albeit so far on a limited basis. Found footage movies now don’t just have to contrive lost footage from newsreels or videotapes, they could employ Youtube and Facebook feeds. George Romero’s DIARY OF THE DEAD added social media to his commentary about human dehumanisation. FEARDOTCOM featured a voyeuristic torture website that killed the viewers who indulged in it. The 2001 Japanese horror KAIRO and its 2006 American adaptation PULSE warned that the Internet, which was linking us all together, might also link us to evil otherworldly forces. There are others, I know.
And now added to this list is filmmaker Cody Calahan’s début full-length feature, ANTISOCIAL. The opening credits are interspersed with webcam footage of two girls talking to their viewers in a video blog about the clothes they bought at the mall, before one of them grows ill, and then attacks the second one, forcing the second one to kill the first, leaving her to sit there in shock in front of the webcam covered in blood. Bet the hits shot up on that website.
(Oh, and just to be certain, this social media site everyone uses in the movie is called Redroom. NOT Facebook. It’s a completely different social network where people can update their statuses and share photos and videos and such. Hear that, lawyers? Stick it back in your briefs.)
We then look in on college student Sam (Michelle Mylett) who tries to contact her boyfriend because she has Something Important to tell him (Hint: she won’t need to buy tampons for a while). She tries to reach him via the Redroom social media app on her phone, only to get a chatroom Dear John from him – and the breakup is witnessed and discussed on the site. Sam deletes the app from her phone without telling him the news (personally, I’d have gone to see him face to face with such news, and then after he dumps her Google myself a lawyer to get ready to collect child support).
Sam goes to old friend Mark (Cody Thompson), who invites her to forget her troubles at his place for a quiet New Year Eve’s party with friends Jed (Adam Kristie), Kaitlin (Ana Alic) and Chad (Ry Barrett), most of whom are more interested in updating their Redroom statuses and filming and uploading photos and videos of each other via their phones. Meanwhile, there are news reports and Redroom statuses about people getting sick, having hallucinations or being violently attacked by others. Someone breaks into the house and is killed, but before they can call the police, others attack.
And as they barricade the doors and windows and see and hear growing disturbances outside, the news indicates that this madness is spreading far more quickly than via any mere virus, and Sam and her fellow survivors must find answers… and a way to survive.
(I’m hoping that this is not considered a spoiler, but I can’t discuss the pros and cons of this movie any further without it: the source of the insanity turns out to be a video on Redroom, a video with subliminal visuals stimulating growth in portions of the brain, producing massive tumours, hallucinations and finally incoherent violence. A quick trepanning can help, but only if done early enough.)
ANTISOCIAL left a positive impression on me the first time I watched it earlier today, though a second viewing has let me see the flaws in Calahan’s movie. It’s extremely restrictive, in that it takes place almost entirely within the apartment where the survivors holed up, and we hear rather than see the chaos outside (in that way, among others, it reminded me a lot of PONTYPOOL, not to mention a legion of other zombie siege films, particularly THE SIGNAL, given the technology-transmitted madness).
The high concept is brilliant, if you don’t think about it too much (apparently the release of the tumour-inducing video was a test to see how influential it would be, before employing it in subliminal marketing! Yes, I’m sure no one will ever make the connection afterwards), but it’s let down by bland, interchangeable and unlikeable characters (including the lead, who will make the expected unconvincing transformation into stoic, axe-wielding badass by the end of the movie) and boring, expository dialogue. And there’s a “twist” at the end which takes everything in a new (if more familiar) direction, and basically says, “Please demand a sequel”.
And as I write this, the apparent message the movie has regarding social media becomes clearer. Sam chooses to delete the Redroom app from her phone, wanting to talk with others at the party, while the rest of them are content to be there in the flesh, but constantly on their phones and laptops (the irony that I am typing this while sitting beside my better half, each of us on our laptops, does not escape me). Because of this, Sam escapes the initial infection. So, is this meant to be the 21st Century version of the old horror trope about the Virgin avoiding the threat that strikes at her more promiscuous friends? It seems a tad old-fashioned, and hypocritical, seeing as how Calahan (who has been in the business for some years now in many capacities) have a Facebook page and Twitter account promoting a movie criticising social media dehumanisation.
But I don’t wish to completely crap on ANTISOCIAL, as it kept me watching until the end. Calahan can really generate the claustrophobia (a plus when you have an ultra low-budget production), we get gore, we get some violent deaths (my favourite being one involving Christmas lights), there’s a lot of Cronenberg-style body horror in the theme and hallucinations (including the fact that the tumours can grow so large they come out of your mouths, or burst through your skulls. Yum!), and they use practical effects instead of fake CGI.
ANTISOCIAL is available on VOD, and will be on DVD in America January 28, and in the UK a day earlier, and the trailer is below. And while I’m in my first review of 2014, may I wish a Happy New Year to Scott and to all the loyal fans of Anythinghorror, and I wish you all many more to come!
Director: Cody Calahan (also co-writer)
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 3 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. The D is silent. It’s come home drunk from New Year’s Eve, and doesn’t want to wake the wife. She’s gonna be so angry with him in the morning when she finds he vomited on the cat and was too drunk to clean it up.