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antisocial

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: as a small group of friends gather for a party, the outside world erupts into chaos, thanks to a mysterious virus that causes the infected to attack and kill others while possessed by an uncontrollable rage. As the social order breaks down outside, it also begins to show signs of strain inside: thanks to betrayals, revelations of past issues and power struggles, the struggle for survival becomes more and more desperate. In time, the survivors will learn that the lucky ones were actually the first to die: they are all about to enter a true “new world order” ruled by irrational violence and sudden death. Is there any hope for humanity or is this the “extinction-level event” that will finally close the curtain on this grand human comedy of ours?

And, in a nutshell, that’s pretty much all there is to writer-director Cody Calahan’s debut feature, Antisocial (2013). Sure, there’s a minor concession to innovation by making the cause of the rage virus our collective addiction to social media outlets like Facebook (I knew it!). Other than that speed-bump, however, everything else here is strictly by the numbers: generic, young protagonists; generic “party” scene, including slo-mo EDM-dancing; generic unrequited loves…the whole production has a “been there, done that” feel that’s only momentarily upended when one of the characters resorts to self-administered amateur brain surgery. When the only way to get the audience’s attention is to drill into someone’s skull, it might be a case of too little, too late.

For the most part, Antisocial is competently made, with decent performances from the cast, most notably newcomer Michelle Mylett as erstwhile protagonist Sam. The effects scenes, while infrequent, are well-staged, focusing on the increasingly disturbing hallucinations of the infected as they think they’re pulling weird, fibrous tendril-things out of their bodies, while the violence can be quite bracing (brain surgery tends to be…well…kinda goopy). The emphasis on social media, however, tends to date the film pretty quickly (would anyone even care about this in five years, much less twenty?) and the ultimate revelation of the true nature of the evil (Facebook as Blofeld? Really, Mr. Bond…that’s just too…stupid) is a real head-shaker. The ending is also needlessly open-ended, which made no sense after my first viewing (it’s a pretty simple story, to be honest) but makes complete sense after I discovered that Calahan’s next feature is going to be Antisocial 2: looks like this is getting the franchise treatment, as bizarre as that sounds.

Ultimately, there are much, much worse films out there than Antisocial but that’s sort of damning with faint praise: there are also plenty of much better films out there, too. Despite coming off as thoroughly middle-of-the-road, Antisocial has several things going for it: the moody atmosphere, reminiscent of indie UK horror flicks, is often quite effective and the filmmaking is consistently polished, if much less than revelatory. The biggest problem with Antisocial, similar to the scads of anonymous zombie films that litter the indie horror industry, is that it has so little of its own identity that it easily blends into the background. Perhaps Calahan and company have something truly interesting up their sleeves for the future (all signs point to some pretty decent talent behind the scenes) but Antisocial definitely seems like a dry run for (hopefully) better things to come.

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