Festivals

Film4 Frightfest – Day 4: ‘Antisocial’ suffers from ubsubtle sermonising on social media

Hansel-and-Gretel

Hansel and Gretel Get Baked
Written by David Tillman
Directed by Duane Journey
USA, 2013

Not long after Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton reimagined the fairytale duo for theTwilight generation, Hansel and Gretel Get Baked offers a marginally more laidback interpretation on the fable for those more inclined towards other slacker duos like Jay and Silent Bob or Harold and Kumar. Director Duane Journey trades in traditional Gothic horror sensibilities for a stoned-eye view of suburbia, priding home-grown fantasy over full-blown horror.

If this is squared for the stoner market, then it’s peculiar for the director to take a cautionary tale about the dangers of stepping into a stranger’s house and switch the goodies from candy to marijuana. Twin Peaks star Lara Flynn Boyle plays the wicked witch, whose effort to lure unsuspecting teens into her gingerbread house is rewarded with the succubus-like theft of their youthfulness. When Gretel’s goofy stoner boyfriend Ashton falls prey to her deceptions, the titular heroine takes it upon herself to investigate. When she goes missing, brother Hansel (Michael Welch) repeats the rescue effort.

None of this is terribly interesting, nor is it written, directed or performed with any degree of panache. The humour is noticeably absent too, disappearing in one fell swoop the minute Ashton, the movie’s most pathetic character, exits the picture. Whereas Gretel (Molly C. Quinn of Castle fame) plays things too straight and determined, Hansel is barely even a presence. When he’s there, he’s blank and disapproving; when he’s not, no one appears to notice. Overall, the film retains the barest simplicity of its source material and doesn’t attempt to grasp for any new heights, nor even attempt to be as humorous as it perhaps should be. Its destiny on the home-video market is quite assured.

Antisocial

Antisocial
Written by Cody Calahan and Chad Archibald
Directed by Cody Calahan
Canada, 2013

From smoking to squabbling: in Antisocial, five friends gather to prepare for a New Year’s Eve party, unaware that the end of the world truly is nigh. An epidemic is spreading, causing its recipients to hallucinate and then devolve into babbling cavemen with an appetite for flesh. Given that the teens already emit a considerable degree of hysteria through their regular interactions, the transformation into monstrousness does come as a welcome relief, a distraction from generic relationship problems.

Director Cody Calahan wants these trivial teenage quandaries, typically exhausted in shows like 90210 and The O.C., to have a degree of resonance by way of their constant mediation over social networks. Calahan sinks into the quasi-surveillance culture perpetuated by social media sites with a blunt tooth, his insight extended no further to the observation that everyone is so helplessly plugged in. Naturally, the network is our downfall; Social Red Room, the fictional site intended to stand in for Facebook, has something to do with the spread of the epidemic. This origin point is not entirely dissimilar to that of Stephen King’s Cell, wherein citizens’ mobile phones caused their brains to be wiped and return to point zero, effectively turning over behaviour management to their id.

The sermonising becomes gradually audacious the more it deigns to emphasise the destructive nature of social media on our relationships. Nothing is more self-evident. It’s only in the final ten minutes of the film that Calahan has some fun and injects a hitherto ignored style to proceedings. The last gasps of conflict are shot through a futuristic blue-green tint, as if David Fincher were capturing a zombie scuffle. It may have come too late, though; the film begins with a bombardment of anti-internet caution and ends in a whirlwind of violence, therefore failing to expand on its initial, unoriginal qualms.

Wither

Wither
Written by Sonny Laguna, Tom Wiklund and David Liljeblad
Directed by Sonny Laguna and Tom Wiklund
Sweden, 2013

Teens convene yet again in Wither and, as we have come to expect, a few of these kids have an eye for each other and, yes, they are holidaying together inside a cabin with no reasonable worry that anything unfortunate should occur. So far, so familiar. But Witherhas its smarts; it knows when to shut up, where to insert its small, bubbling insecurities, and how to litter drops of humour without taking its eye off the ball.

If one was to recommend Wither with a simple phrasing, then it’s safe to say that this is the remake of Evil Dead that fans would have preferred to see. The budget is low and the blood is plentiful, but crucially there comes a point about midway through when every character shuts their mouths and does the sensible thing: run away, kill, or die trying at either. Humour is well-placed and moderate in tone. One male finds his friend sprawled against the wall, drenched in her own blood, pouring from every orifice. “Maybe she has rabies?” “How would rabies do this?” his friend screams. “I don’t know,” he replies. “Has she taken any drugs, then?”

Giving a new meaning to “why won’t you stay down”, Wither revels in making its possessed-teens near-indestructible, refusing to die until every last drop of crimson has been squeezed, slashed out or vomited in a thick spray. There isn’t a dry square inch of the cabin by the film’s end. Survivors would do well to watch where they step, for fear of slipping and breaking their necks on the wet, red floor. The greatest punchline of all comes from lead protagonist Albin (Patrik Almqvist), who responds to the carnage that has consumed his friends with the only reasonable, productive response: “Fuuuuuuuuck!” Drawn out, resigned, exasperated – one can’t envy the clean-up job awaiting this young man.

Read my original entry at PopOptiq/Sound on Sight

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