Director: Cody Calahan
Writer: Chad Archibald, Cody Calahan, Jeff Maher
Stars: Michelle Mylett, Stephen Bogaert, Josette Halpert
The original Antisocial is a criminally underrated and under-seen film. It has witty dialogue delivered by fun and occasionally memorable characters, all while managing to make its limited setting work to bring a real sense of the apocalypse kicking off. It contains some fantastically grim and gruesome moments wrapped in some social media satire that somehow manages to be very heavy handed yet also believable and in good working order. It was Unfriended before there was Unfriended. It also has one of the best, most fraught endings in recent horror films, as pregnant final girl Sam (Michelle Mylett) has to drill into and extract a zombifiying tumour from her skull, before climbing out of the basement and into the zombie apocalypse (here's hoping 'out of the basement and into the zombie apocalypse' is the new 'out of the frying pan and into the fire'). What makes this ending, and preceding film so great is that it is essentially a prequel to nearly every zombie film ever made. Most zombie films have such a nebulous cause for the dead returning to life that you could bolt this in front of it and they work as part A and B of one whole zombie uprising. It also fully solidifies Mylett's Sam as a stone cold heroine, someone who could easily be the female Ash in an Antisocial sequel.
“I would love to see a sequel to this” I thought, immediately followed by “but I doubt it will ever happen”. The film wasn't a wide release, it was a small production and most reviews were rather less enthusiastic than mine.
But then, out of the blue, Antisocial 2 was announced. “Brilliant! I can't wait to see it! And I will be glad to not be careful what I wish for!”
And then you know the punchline to that.
The story picks up with Sam, some months later, surviving in the post-zombie wasteland and about to give birth. And as you see her scramble into a gutted building with graffiti covering the walls and items of urban decay, the heart sinks. Immediately you know that the sequel to that film that was like no other zombie movie, is going to be like most other zombie movies.
There are some well planned elements to differentiate it from other zombie films. The premise is that the Social Red Room, the social network that became self-aware and decided to take over the world in the original, is slowly applying an update, creeping up to 100% with the most terrifying loading bar imaginable. We're not sure what it means to begin with, but it's probably not going to be a mass email apology.
A change in dynamic is also introduced, with those who have drilled the tumor from their heads being branded as 'defects' by those 'pure' humans who were never infected. That's probably the smartest piece of writing in the film; its a very unexpected and very astute satire on a portion of society that likes to lord it over others that formerly or still do spend too much time connected to the internet, and treat them with the same disdain over those who are hopelessly addicted to it.
There's also the emergence of the fact it's possible to give simple commands to the 'users' for the brief time a person can connect to the Social Red Room before turning into one themselves.
There's also a messianic child who's exhibiting some startling powers but is kept under lock and key, apparently the means to saving humanity.
But at the end of the day, pretty much every zombie film has one or more novelty mechanics to differentiate themselves from the slowly dwindling tide of films in the genre. It's the equivalent of saying a new video game has amazing graphics. Of course they have. They all do.
Unfortunately these mechanics are not really explored to their full potential. The ability to manipulate users is use only once, not long after the concept has been introduced. Writer/Director Cody Calahan is clearly a clever person, and in his hands he could have slyly used the concept of an underclass caste in a way that Romero himself tried and failed at in Land of the Dead.
Sadly the plot paints that right out of the picture. And perhaps this is, unlike the original, an example of when a low budget really works against a movie. The disappointing generic feel of the film could've been forgiven if we'd at least got a proper zombie film. But instead we spend most of the film in A Facility.
We all know what A Facility looks like. The walls, floors and ceilings are all concrete. There's either large metal doors that slide back and forth or doors that are actually strips of thick transparent plastic hung from the doorway. There's computer wires haphazardly strung between messily set-up machines. There are areas cordoned off by movable walls of polythene with the fuzzy outlines of people in them. There's rooms with narrow long horizontal windows looking into other rooms, often containing the aforementioned polythene'd off areas. Also black and yellow tape.
You know, A Facility.
Why have I laboured the many cliches of A Facility? Because every one of these appears the Facility in Antisocial 2, and we spend an awful lot of time in one of the most overly familiar settings in fiction. It is a very, very boring place to spend a long time.
In this facility our heroine Sam, our plucky go-getter protagonist from the first film, mostly is locked up in slightly different rooms and has stuff done to her. She's questioned, she's experimented on, but she doesn't do anything herself until the end. She is utterly passive for what feels like a longer stretch of the film than actually is. It actually feels like a real betrayal of the character we saw in part one, who was strong and tried to solve problems even if that meant making some very hard choices.
Naturally in this secure Facility the characters and viewers are kept away from the zombie hordes outside. With a strong cast of characters and some fizzling tension that would be fine. Just look at the time Romero himself tried and greatly succeeded, by pitting scientists against soldiers in Day of the Dead: A Facility.
Here though the only real characters, and thus interplay, is between Sam and the head of the Facility, surgeon Max. Max is trying to save the humans, but he's elected to go about it using evil. This is never really explained, there's no real insight into his psyche at all, he's just yet another cliché, the Evil Doctor. He's an underwritten part, but surely Stephen Bogaert could've pulled something more interesting out of the bag? He does Evil Doctor well, and perhaps his philosophy was sticking to what he does well. But considering he is the only other real character in the film it's a very, very cardboard character. The only moment when Max isn't in Evil Doctor mode is in some of his last moments in the film. Seeing this possibility of what could've been almost makes it more of a disappointment.
What made Antisocial so fun was the smart cast of collage students all snickering/snogging/smoking/screaming together. It had the fun of a slasher movie but the desperation of a zombie film and it was an exhilarating balance. Here though we're stripped of that aspect of fun, of enjoyable characters, and we're thrust into a character set-up that is resolutely dreary.
The film seems to be rolling to a stop as the minutes stretch out and the temptation to quickly look at your phone, check your emails from Haddonfield Horror overlord Ryan and fire off a string of abusive tweets to Donald Trump/Alex Salmond mounts. Then, it kicks into life. Something meaningful happens, and it's a cracking finale. There's a genuine sense of tension, of dread. Characters make drastic decisions, changing the lives of themselves and others. Blood starts to spill, people start turning on each other, the Facility descends into panic. The film even manages the very impressive trick of having a kind-of second apocalypse while not negating the original, which is quite the feat. The film starts to play with our sense of time and place to great effect and it ends on a belter of a closer. Where was all this for the majority of the film? It's almost enough to forget you've had to wade through cinematic tar to get there. It's a finale that warrants a third film, but sadly the preceding span really doesn't. I hope there is an Antisocial 3, because with the first film the team have proven they're capable of something a lot better than this.
There's some top quality Mr. Whippy with strawberry sauce at the end of this, but you've got to eat 12 bowls of porridge increasing in size to get to it. And you will sit there loving it. But you shouldn't have to eat 12 increasingly big portions of porridge to get it.
Especially not when you have to eat them in A Facility.
Images courtesy of GAT