‘Panic Button’ is an independent British horror movie filmed on a small three hundred thousand pound budget. Based on an increasingly common premise, director Chris Crow does a decent job crafting a cautionary tale about the dangers of social networking and the information we share online.
The story revolves around four people who win an all-expenses paid trip by private jet to New York through social networking site All2gethr.com (a clear stand-in for Facebook). Once on board they (somewhat predictably) give up their mobile phones and, once in flight, take part in a quiz based on their online lives. It soon becomes clear, however, that the game is not as innocent as it appears, and that more than prizes are at stake…
The cast is primarily made up of well-known British small-screen faces, although the performances are somewhat mixed. Standouts are Michael Jibson who imbues Dave with an air of self-aggrandising creepiness and credibility when things turn violent, and from Scarlett Alice Johnson as lead girl Jo, who is convincingly vulnerable and desperate, and who does a good job of grounding the film’s crazier moments. Less impressive are Clive Owen lookalike Jack Gordon as Max, and Elen Rhys as Gwen. Both struggle gamely with the wafer-thin characters they are given; Rhys especially becomes irritatingly whiny and annoying as the plot barrels along. However, these two are established very early on as the support, and from the opening five minutes it is obvious which characters will be butting heads as story unfolds.
‘Panic Button’ is not a film in which scares abound; in fact, I didn’t count a single jump in its 90 (ish) minute run time. The horror here is very much conceptual, and the basic premise is an interesting one – just how could the information you share online be used against you? Admittedly, it is an idea that is increasingly well-trodden in modern horror movies, but it is nevertheless effective. The story unfolds in a confined space and this narrow focus (caused, in part, by budgetary constraints I am sure) actually helps the director build up pressure on the audience and his characters. In the early exchanges between the contestants, tension is built up nicely, especially as it becomes obvious that the quizmaster knows more about each of the characters than they realise. Given such a small budget there are some decent special effects here too and, even though the lingering camera in later scenes means the VFX do not hold up to scrutiny, it is easy to forgive the film for its technical limitations.
Unfortunately the second half of the movie fails to live up to the promise of the first. With depressing predictability, the unsettling vibe is replaced by increasingly ludicrous situations and by characters who, even by horror movie standards, make some extremely suspect decisions. Some of these are so far-fetched that the goodwill that ‘Panic Button’ works so hard to create is almost, almost, blown completely. The resolution of the game and the manner in which the characters’ fates play out becomes silly and it descends into feeble and unfeasible acts of violence. This is followed by the reveal of a villain who, rather than leave breadcrumbs throughout for the audience to pick up, the film springs from nowhere in disappointing fashion. The film concludes with a completely unnecessary final scene that adds nothing and could have been discarded on the cutting room floor without affecting the production detrimentally.
Despite my reservations and its undoubted weaknesses, I actually quite enjoyed ‘Panic Button’. The film has a strong concept, some decent performances, and an interesting and involving opening half. Unfortunately, the film implodes in its latter stages, becoming improbable and overwrought. However, as a low-budget UK offering, there is much to praise here, and I hope that it finds the genre audience it deserves. As throwaway, Friday night, fare that is entertaining but instantly forgettable, you could do a lot worse than ‘Panic Button’.
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