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Cinema Obscura - a weekly trek through the darker and frequently more random and forgotten regions of Cult, Foreign and Obscure cinema and pretty much everything in between. Each week highlighting a film worth hunting down, for those who like to wander away from the more-traveled-roads of Mainstream cinema.
It’s safe to say that this era will be defined as the “the social networking era", especially as it seems the majority of us can’t get through the day without our Facebook / Twitter fix and I know that I'm certainly no exception to this. So what better time could there be for “Panic Button" to come along, the second feature by English writer / director Chris Crow who has made this movie which supposedly attempts to highlight the dangers of social networking sites, especially with it’s Dan Brown esq title card “Inspired by true stories shared via social networks.
The plot is honestly nothing too special as four strangers a brought together after winning a competition for an all expenses paid trip to New York on fictional social networking site All2gether.com. Having given up their mobile phones, the group board their private jet, were they are greeted by a mysterious voice represented by a cartoon Alligator, who appears on the numerous monitors in the plane, who proceeds to invite them all to play a series of games, in a bid to win even more prizes. It’s only once the games begin that the group realise that things might not be what they seem and even more so that they should really have read the terms and conditions.
The group though small in number are interesting enough from the first impressions we get from them as we have single mum Jo (Scarlett Alice Johnson), the geeky computer nerd Max (Jack Gordon), the laddish Dave (Michael Jibson) and the bubbly blonde Gwen (Elen Rhys), but it’s once the games start that we truly learn who these characters really are, as their darkest secrets are dredged from their internet histories and social network pages and put on show for the others to see, as director Crow reminds us just how much information we send across the internet on a daily basis and what it can possibly revel about us. Though small in numbers especially when compared to the group numbers in similar films, they still manage to have enough dark secrets to compensate and the claustrophobic setting of the aircraft cabin certainly working to the advantage of such a small number of potential victims.
The cast are all unknowns yet still pull off believable performances, with the anonymity certainly working to their advantage here as no one is viewed with any preconceived notions of what sort of characters any of the group really are. Joshua Richards however seems to be channeling Brian Cox for his portrayal of the mysterious voice known funnily enough only as Alligator seeing how he’s represented by surprise! Surprise! of all things a talking alligator. Still this Brian Cox inspired voice acting is a great choice, especially seeing how Cox was so memorable with his own commentary in brutal PS2 game “Manhunt" and it’s a similar switching between playful and taunting that Richards brings to the role, which proves to be one of the stronger parts of the film, especially as he continually gives the impression of being in complete control, even as the group try to fight against the game they are being forced to play
Premiering at 2012's Horrorfest, it’s premise made it instantly one of the most talked about films of the festival, with its premier being greeted with much excitement and honestly the first thirty minutes of this movie are really great with the tension slowly being cranked up, as the games start of innocent enough with truths about the groups members being exposed to revel such fun facts as who secretly has a pierced scrotum, only to then suddenly take on a much darker edge, as the once playful voice suddenly becomes a lot more taunting and with the plane in flight it leaves the group with no were to run and zero means of escape, leaving them fully in the hands of this anonymous voice. Sadly it’s around this point that the film soon starts to loose it’s way as the group members are each assigned their own individual tasks causing a serious break in the tension, as the film now starts to feel as if it has no place to really go and is essentially padding out its run time, with this drawn out final game.
The main problem for myself with the film, is that it tries to keep the focus purely on the group, no doubt due to budget restrictions which makes sense to keep the action purely in one setting, though without a second plot thread to keep the film flowing it results in the audience soon growing bored of these characters, especially when we know who they are which results in grinding everything to almost a standstill. A quick glance at similar films to this one only further highlight this issue, for example “Saw" (2004) is set largely around the two guys locked in a disused bathroom, but we still have the second plot-line involving Detective Tapp tracking Jigsaw to help keep the action flowing, even “Cube" (1997) had it’s series of identical interlinking rooms to throw in a few surprises, were as here it feels that they have written themselves into a corner with the setting and outside of how certain contestants meet their demise, there is very little on offer to surprise the audience once their secrets have been revealed and we know who they really are, with the final big twist almost seemingly anticlimactic once the big revel is given, while when the face behind the mysterious voice is revealed it only results in more questions as to how they managed to orchestrate the whole thing, while the epilogue is certainly undeniably chilling.
Director Crow has taken the refreshingly original direction here to keep the film largely gore free, which might be slightly disappointing for those expecting to see “Saw" on a plane! But it certainly doesn't take anything away from the film by not painting the walls with buckets of gore and amputated limbs, which after seven “Saw" movies is a much needed breath of fresh air for the genre and proving once again that you don’t always need to gross out your audience.
Despite having it’s numerous flaws “Panic Button" is still worth a rental, even if it doesn't exactly manage to keep up the tension the whole way through, it still plays out well enough to keep your attention, even when it feels like such minimal plotting is being stretched way too thin, while Director Crow show potential for good things, it is still way too early to start categorizing him as the new voice of British horror, he has still managed to pull off an effective film on a minimalist budget which reminds you again that a good films doesn't always need to have big named stars and a huge budget to achieve it’s effect and perhaps with a little more tweaking this film could have been a better example of this