R J Bayley reviews the Canadian indie film, Antisocial - the horror movie for the social networking generation ...
They say there's a fine line between horror and comedy. They also say there's a fine line between tragedy and comedy. Anyway you look at it, there is a line touching comedy, and Antisocial is a film that walks this line perfectly, with a great mix of horror, comedy, and yes a little bit of tragedy as well.
If you ever wondered if a film about a killer Facebook would be made and what it would be like, this is your answer. The basic premise of Antisocial sees a group of college friends gathered for a new year's eve party in a deserted collage town. Before long people outside of, and later within, the house start experiencing nightmarish hallucinations, nosebleeds and finally incredible rage and depression, manifesting in the form of primal, unreasoning violence towards others.
The teens gathered within the house are, paradoxically the major misstep of the film. Paradoxically why? Because writers Chad Archibald and Cody Calahan (also director) have made the choice to have their core characters (and this core is all we get) as realistic as possible. As such we're not going to sit through the traditional combination of jock, nerd, bimbo, comic relief and normal girl that collage and teen horror is built upon. Instead our characters all roughly fit into the same social category, one that would occur naturally in society. Sure, there are concessions made to these horror archetypes; there's the sexualized girl Kaitlin (played by Ana Alic) who takes her clothes off and does a sexy dance for her boyfriend, and lead character Sam (Michelle Mylett) is a bit of a loner who has an androgynous name. By and large however they are all achingly hip. They never quite fall into the abyss of being a hipster (although a horror movie in which a maniac goes around chopping up hipsters, perhaps wearing a Bon Jovi t-shirt and un-self-conscious haircut, would be a nice throwback to the 80s' tradition of cheering for the killer), but they are all desperately hip at various points. They're also uniformly earnest and nice to each other - again, this would likely be the case in a small friendship group, but these traits do not make for interesting character dynamics make. Perhaps after all we need these archetypal characters. Film-makers do need to invent some new ones to throw into the mix (Goths/emos are always on the reserves bench) or just explore them in different and interesting ways, like Drew Goddard did with Cabin In The Woods though.
Sam however is a very good lead character - she's determined and strong, but is also indecisive and scared at times. Michelle Mylett puts in a really solid performance and I'd be surprised if we didn't see her appear in a few more films, horrors specifically, down the road.
Jed, played by Adam Christie, is also a stand-out. He has a great character arc that believably takes him from the social media abstainer quietly laughing at the the majority who partake, to the pious and ruthless character who knows his power comes the fact he's under no risk of turning crazy. It's very nice to see a character who "prefers things the old fashioned way" to have his standpoint validated so potently.
However it's not the characters that take centre stage in this film, it's the situation they're both in and framed with. The story, satire and ideas are gripping, intelligent, funny and very scary.
Satirically the film is very astute, drawing accurate parallels been the zombified masses that are both enslaved by and seemingly dependent on social media (literally in some cases, social media is my main profession). But the film goes beyond this nice but obvious metaphor. The "infected" in this film are very much like the infected in 28 Days Later; very angry, violent, fast zombies. It's a wonderful reflection of the way we often behave online and on social media: humans can be incredibly disgusting and verbally violent towards others in their online alter-egos and Antisocial transposes this into the real, physical world - fantastic observation and realisation. The ultimate method of dealing with this, which I don't want to spoil here, is also an apt metaphor for what it might be like to withdraw totally from social media.
It's perhaps a shame that they couldn't use a real social media platform or platforms and billed it as parody, instead of using their own made up version, "The Social Redroom". It's clear to see why they wouldn't want to risk bringing the full legal force of the some of the richest corporations in the world down on them, but it would have been a much better use of parody than the endless excrement tide of Scary Movies and [insert genre here] Movies. Nevertheless it's clear to see who they're lampooning.
Antisocial does the classy thing as a horror comedy and firmly plants itself in horror territory while letting the comedy arise from the satire and allusions the audience draws all by themselves. And the comedy is a rich, delicious sick chuckle of self-realisation for the most part.
The story, which becomes apparent before long, is that of the end of the world as we know it. The means of it, obviously by now, is a social network that most of the planet has been using, containing a virus that can transfer into its users. Once you get over the digital to flesh transfer idea it's one of the most unique and frighteningly plausible causes for the collapse of civilization. It's really nicely told as well: using news reports to convey the downfall of our way of life has been an old money saving trick since the original Night of the Living Dead, but it's done particularly well here. There's a jolt as events seem to accelerate extremely quickly, but the pay off is that the story never stays in the same state too long, the outward discoveries constantly changing the situation inside the house. It also means that when you're used to the story speed the pace is very quick and enjoyable.
Within this context there are some very nice elements of direct horror. The infected themselves are played down in favour of paranoia over who's infected, when will they turn, and the moral and emotional quandaries of what to do with them while they're in the process of doing so. Some of the imagery is striking. The hallucinations and chattering, deformed people that virus victims face is unnerving, and a certain tongue sequence will definitely have viewers squirming despite a slightly unsatisfactory result.
Fittingly the finale is also spot on, with a very tense, gruelling endurance test for our lead Sam that's low key but powerful. It's also very self-mythologising. This is a film which very much knows and loves the others in its genre, but doesn't make reference to them, just allows the viewer's prior knowledge to fill in a few gaps for efficient storytelling. Antisocial's ending contains a marvellously unavoidable twist in the problem, and in doing so turns Sam into a great hero-to-be and re-purposes the film, at the last moment, into a really great 'genre origin' story.
Antisocial is The Social Network meets 28 Days Later and it's fantastic.
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Image from Amazon
You can buy Antisocial from Amazon here: