Netflix Review/Reader Request – Await Further Instructions: An Anti-Vaxxer Horror Film?, Or The Monsters are Dumb at Maple Street (Spoiler-Free and Ending Explained)

I get my first reader request to try and interpret a movie, the British film Await Further Instructions. I regret accepting this request.

SUMMARY

It’s Christmas time. A time for family. Even the family that you don’t really get along with. The last one is the circumstances that our protagonist Nick (Sam Gittins) finds himself in, when he returns home after a long time away, bringing his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) to meet the Milgram Family. They immediately find themselves in conflict with Nick’s racist grandfather (David Bradley), his pregnant and proudly-ignorant sister Kate (Holly Weston), her meathead husband Scott (Kris Sadler), and his authoritarian father Tony (Grant Masters). His mother Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) is just sort of weak and obliging, but everyone seems to manage to get along, though it’s strained. The next morning, Nick and Annji decide to leave early to avoid more conflict, but find that the house is now surrounded by a mysterious black substance.

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I liked the Black substance being somewhat bio-mechanical looking, like the Xenomorph.

All cell phones are down, the internet is down, and the only contact with the outside world is coming through the television, which is displaying emergency messages, telling the family to “Await Further Instructions.” At first they attempt to just continue life as normal as possible, but soon the messages tell them to get rid of their food, to rub their bodies with bleach, then to inject themselves with “vaccines” that come through the chimney and are contained within dirty needles. At every step, the cycle basically goes “Nick and Annji point out that this is a terrible idea, then Tony overrules them.”

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This looks professional, right?

Throughout the movie, the people are compelled to do more and more extreme acts by the television, until the truth of the situation is revealed.

END SUMMARY

This movie is an example of “good idea, bad execution.” The premise of people under stress turning on each other is fairly old, including the classic The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” but tying it in with technology and featuring a family representative of the current societal cultural divides does distinguish it. There are, however, three big problems with this movie. First, the characters are too over the top. Tony, Kate, and Scott are all just too irrational, too quickly. Tony is not just immediately ready to believe whatever the TV says, but to use violence to enforce it. When it’s time to pick someone to be isolated, they don’t even consider that Scott, the guy who literally just shoved his hand into a mystery hole, might be the one who is infected. Meanwhile, Nick and Annji, the supposed voices of reason, just keep going along with stuff after they get shouted down. Nobody does much to figure out what’s going on for the first hour of the film, despite that being most people’s first reaction. It just doesn’t work well. Second, the dialogue is clunky as hell. Almost every line is awkward and uninspiring and could basically be called “cliche roulette.” Last, *Minor Spoiler* the last twenty minutes of the movie is such a violent change that it kind of feels like it was intended to be a different movie. *End Spoiler*

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Scott’s too dumb to recognize that the gash is clearly alive. Nobody’s that dumb.

So, the actual request I got was asking if this was an “anti-vaxxer” horror film. It’s pretty obvious why the question comes up, since the people in the movie all inject themselves with vaccines which *Minor Spoiler* doesn’t end well *End Spoiler.* I don’t deny that you can interpret that scene as being against trusting vaccines given to you by authority figures, but I think I can explain it as just being an incidental part of a bigger message.

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Tony, manning up by injecting himself with a dirty needle.

The film’s about blindly obeying authority, and that’s really any kind of authority. The family that is featured, the Milgrams, are even named after the famous Milgram Experiment, an experiment which confirmed that, if people are told by an authority figure to hurt or even kill someone, about 30% of people (or potentially up to 60%) will eventually do so. Admittedly, the experiment was aimed at being about authority, but subsequent experiments suggest it’s less about obeying and more about disclaiming responsibility. Still, the movie is a clear cautionary tale about the perils of not questioning orders.

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Law and Order: SVU actually did it better. 

“But Joker,” I hear my reader say, “isn’t the basis for rejecting vaccines essentially rejecting the authorities telling you that they’re helpful in favor of asserting your own belief (comment below if you actually said it, because that’d be awesome)?” Well, yes, but the difference is that vaccines are supported by scientific authority, whereas policy or command decisions are derived from, eventually, martial authority. The beauty of scientific authority is that any human being could, through study and time, go through the entire history of scientific discovery and eventually understand why and how vaccines work. Science is not an opinion, it’s a system by which we remove opinions until the truth remains. Yes, sometimes prevailing theories wrong, particularly in soft sciences, but the beauty is that if you prove a theory wrong, then your correct theory becomes the new main theory. Science never encourages you to blindly follow it, because the less blind you are, the more it helps science. Scientific authority is best summarized as “what is proved right becomes right, what is proved wrong becomes wrong.” Citation: Every scientist ever (myself included).

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I picked Lorenz’s because he worked on animal aggression.

Command decisions on the other hand, such as Tony’s orders to the family or the TV’s orders to Tony, are backed by martial authority. That means that, eventually, you fall in line because if you don’t, someone bigger than you commits violence upon you. That’s pretty much the way that all of civilization works: If you break the agreed-upon commands, someone kicks your ass. Sure, we’ve got courts and lawyers between us and most of the actual violence, but if you keep breaking the rules, eventually, violence will be inflicted upon you. We actually see that exemplified in the movie multiple times, particularly with Tony’s drafting of Scott as a foot soldier who carries out violence when Nick disagrees. However, the issue with unchecked martial authority is that eventually more and more violence is used in response to smaller and smaller violations of decrees.  The movie weakly tries to bring in religious or divine authority, but it’s mostly tied in with martial authority. Martial authority is best summarized as “what is right is what I say is right or else I smash your face in.” It encourages blindly following authority, because every time you question it, it has to smash your face in and sometimes that encourages you to smash back. Citation: Pretty much all of history.

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Best example ever.

The scene in the movie where the characters take vaccines even has a character point out that the risk isn’t just in the vaccine, it’s that the vaccines are improperly packaged, contain dirty needles, were delivered by chimney, and are in response to a health crisis that there is no evidence is even real. That’s not the same as saying don’t trust doctors and scientists. Hell, the two most educated characters, including one nurse, are the ones who are actually shown to be in the right about everything. So, no, I don’t think the movie is actually anti-vaxxer, it just was a little messy in this scene.

Overall, parts of the film, mostly the eerie way the television communicates and the body-horror, are well done. Other parts, particularly the characters and the dialogue, are just uninteresting and terrible. Horror doesn’t always need great dialogue (so many conversations from 80s slashers about sex come to mind), but it has to at least be INTERESTING dialogue, if you’re not having super strong visuals, and there aren’t many visuals until the end. I actually think they would have done better to have the television be communicating seemingly through regular media broadcasts, which might have given them a more cohesive message at the end, which brings me to…

***ENDING EXPLAINED***

At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the black mass surrounding the house is actually a tentacle monster which is basically made up of coaxial cables and has been infiltrating their television and controlling them. At the end, it even moves to motivating Tony to worship it, allowing it to completely control him. After everyone in the house is dead, the monster dissolves Kate’s body and says hello to her baby. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood is similarly falling apart and being consumed by the black creatures. So what’s happening here?

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Yeah, this is a weird way to end things.

Well, I admit that the last 20 minutes of this film is a little bit off-the-walls and gets a little confusing in themes. Most of the movie up until this point has been a fairly straight-forward message about the danger of not questioning authority or about succumbing to martial authority, but while the monster had been using the television to control everyone, it doesn’t do anything through traditional media. In fact, any time anyone tries to guess the source of the broadcast, it’s either Tony asserting that it’s the government or Nick asserting it’s coming from a sinister other source. The only statements about traditional media are a few lines about stories that the characters use as a basis to discriminate, but nothing about them really places any message about the media there. Despite that, the ending seems to be a pretty straightforward metaphor… I mean, it’s a child that is going to be raised by a television telling the baby to “worship [it].”

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Like I said, the ending gets a little confusing, and I think the key to it is that Annji sees the heart of the television is actually controlled by the monster. This indicates that the monster hasn’t just been there since Christmas, but possibly for a while, meaning that the monster knew how humans can divide themselves over issues and how prone certain people are to taking commands, allowing it to craft a perfect series of commands to the family to get them to kill themselves. Hell, it even knew Christmas was the time when people are the easiest targets, because they’re all together. When Nick and Annji resist, it just has Tony do the job. Finally, when it’s left alone, it seems to gently greet Ruby, the baby. That’s because this has probably been its goal all along, to raise a generation of children under its control to provide it with unquestioned worship. That’s the only way to explain why it chose to spare the baby, but not Tony, who is already its worshipper. Do I have very much to go on there? No, because the last 20 minutes of this movie are insane and hard to nail down. Is it about all authority or media? Is it about killing people or controlling people? I have no idea, but that’s my best guess. If the movie had chosen the television to communicate through, say, hijacked news broadcasts, that would have made a better metaphor, in my opinion, but I didn’t make the film.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Joker Mini-Review – STILLWATER Trailer

Well, this was a strange occurrence. I received a request from (apparently) Nino Aldi, an independent film producer and director, asking for a review of his new film STILLWATER and its trailer. As you regulars know, I try to do any requests I can feasibly undertake (given that I have almost no money at the moment, there are some challenges), so I will do this one. I’m reviewing the trailer today and the film tomorrow, because doing it the other way around would be weird.

Update: After I decided to undertake this, I had a loss in my family. As such, I have moved the movie review to Monday in order to travel and help with the funeral arrangements.

Okay, so, here’s the trailer:

SUMMARY for those of you who can’t watch

A group of friends who were apparently former champions of something go camping in the middle of the woods near a lake. They have a night of drinking, only to find in the morning that one of them, Cooper (Ryan Vincent), has fallen off of a cliff to his death. For reasons that aren’t explained in the trailer, because time-saving, they realize that Cooper’s death wasn’t an accident. However, they’re the only ones in the area, so it has to have been one of them. They start to turn on each other out of suspicion, with at least one image suggesting another murder.

END SUMMARY

It’s odd to review a two-and-a-half-minute trailer, but here are the positives:

The set-up and isolation are established pretty quickly, as is the nature of the relationship between the characters. The sound definitely plays into the atmosphere from the beginning, not trying to surprise you with a cheap switch from, say, a traditional party movie track to a mystery theme. Obviously, I tend to favor a trailer being representative of the film, in tone if not in content, and the sound and score definitely seem consistent with the “suspicious death and ensuing accusations” vibe of the movie.

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As opposed to, say, focusing a trailer on a 90 second dream sequence that misleads as to tone and content.

As to the content of the trailer, it has a few overly expositional lines in it, but… well, it’s a trailer, you need to convey a lot quickly if you aren’t a major studio. Lines like “there’s no way he fell down this cliff” on their own don’t carry much aside from saying “yes, the premise of the movie will include us finding our friend murdered.” In a movie, saying that without build-up or without a subsequent explanation, would be terrible. In a trailer, it’s just getting the point across, and works fine. When the group first starts turning on each other, it seems like they’ve skipped a little bit, but it does convey an idea of how seriously some of the members are taking this. Since it’s a murder, that makes sense.

The use of switching between group and isolation shots works well with the idea that everyone has gone from being part of a team to individuals suspecting each other. I’m always a fan of using the camera to convey the truth behind the scene and that’s usually what that kind of shot indicates.

And here are the drawbacks:

This trailer needed to have about 30 seconds cut from it. I don’t know if the length is just an industry trend, so maybe some of the material is there for that purpose. The reason I say that is that this film appears to be a mystery and that aspect of a movie will sell itself: Put out a good murder set-up and fans of the genre will want to see it just to find out what happens. Once you’ve sold the set-up, quit selling, because everything else can only make us less interested. In this case, it’s all the shots showing us the elements of the fallout amongst the group and the reiteration that the person who killed Coop was one of them. For the former, it just tells us that what we’re expecting happens, which can dull the fun a bit. For the latter, we’ve established that Coop was killed by one of them, so saying it again either accomplishes nothing or makes us think the twist is that he wasn’t killed by one of them. Neither of these really helps with selling the trailer.

Overall, I’m not saying the trailer really has me super amped to see the movie, but it also hasn’t shown me anything that screams “mistake.” I do at least want to find out who killed Coop, so… hopefully the movie either answers that or gives me a solid reason why it doesn’t answer that.

The movie’s available on Amazon and a few other places online, and their website is found via this helpful link.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Netflix Review: 13 Demons

Update: This is now on Netflix, and I have to warn the people.

Compared to Iconoclast, this was a masterpiece, but I’m not 100% sure exactly what this movie was by any other measure. On its IMDB page, it appears I’m not alone, since a ton of the reviews are super low, and others are fairly high.

SUMMARY

The plot starts in medias res with 2 guys being accused of murder in a police station. They’re being held and interviewed separately, but delivering similar answers, claiming that they’re both demon-slaying paladins with fanciful names “Torkul of Darkhaven” (Stephen Grey) and “Abelsworth of the High Wind.” (Michael Cunningham) I braced myself at this point. It then flashes back to their origin.

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If you’re being interrogated while covered in blood, you may as well claim insanity.

It’s the 90s, the 2 guys are stoned gaming roommates, and a third guy (Daniel Falicki) brings home a board game called “13 Daemons” (no idea why they changed the spelling for the title) which had previously been banned because it caused people to go on murder sprees. The game immediately does the Jumanji “must be magnets or something” gimmick with the pieces, which one of the characters literally calls “Jumanji shit.” There’s then a 10-minute-long montage of these guys playing a roleplaying game… and it is boring. It’s just pot smoking, reading from the lore book, complaining about the smell of the game, and rolling the dice once. It’s like watching people play DnD but without the banter or coherence. Finally, one of the players gets to challenge a demon, and the movie then moves into this weird rotoscoping-style sequence that looks like either Tron or the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings. I admit, despite looking cheap and goofy, I kind of liked the sequence. It just has the player, Torkul, see an animated demon and then stab it to death.

13Demons-2Rotoscoping.png

The characters wake up in different positions with a murder reporting on the TV, bloody upside-down crosses painted in the room, and everyone in completely different positions. But, they keep playing anyway, and now, they start to descend into madness where their characters overtake them. This is represented by them reading the manual in slightly more serious tones and different voices. The acting is… well, they’re playing the “stoned” and “paladin” personas as very over the top and different, but I guess they’re supposed to be playing it that way. I’m not going to pretend this is a triumph of acting, but the director and writer (who is actor number 3) obviously knew they weren’t great, so he kept them at least somewhat in the right range for their skills.

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“Did you paint that in blood?” “No, did you?” “No… let’s get stoned and keep playing.”

The second player does another one of the animated sequences fighting his demon, and then comes what is undoubtedly the best sequence in the movie. The third guy is supposed to fight his demon, but instead of the animated hallucination, we see what is actually happening: He’s putting on pots and pans for armor and carrying a rubber mallet. It is done in a hilariously serious manner in the film. He then tries to slay a demon that is actually a mechanic with a tire iron, and, as would probably happen, the mechanic just beats him over the head with the tire iron. It’s genuinely an entertaining sequence.

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Now is the time of the Hammer.

The movie then loses steam in a very sad way. The rest is a montage of the two remaining players descending into madness while arguing over which one of them is the “purest” paladin. They basically challenge each other to a death match, then sit back down to roll the dice. It starts to flash between these scenes and the police station, where it’s revealed that they’ve been murdering random people who they thought were demons, including small children. And now, both of them believe that the last demon is the other one. The movie then ends with both of them in police custody, being charged with murder, insisting that it’s not “just a game.” It ends with literally no resolution or explanation of what’s happened.

END SUMMARY

Okay, so, I’m torn on this film. On the one hand, the concept is… well, not new, it’s kind of a combination of “Mazes and Monsters” and “Jumanji” if you watched both on pot. But, it was at least kind of interesting. The acting is over-the-top and ridiculous, but, since the characters are always either stoned or possessed by a board game, that doesn’t really make it unbearable. The special effects are cheap and cheesy, but they know they’re cheap and cheesy, so, again, it doesn’t really make upset me. The sequence of the guy in pots and pans armor is nothing short of hilarious, but the rest of the movie doesn’t really come off as humorous, so it kind of gives you tonal whiplash.

Which brings me to the thing that most pisses me off in the movie: It completely lacks any climax, either emotional or narrative. If it were a comedy, or some form of alternative film where that made sense, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s literally a quest film. It needs an ending of some sort, but instead, it just ends with the question over whether or not the game was causing the problem or if these guys are just crazy… which makes no sense because WE KNOW THE GAME IS THE PROBLEM. Even the cops should know the game is the problem. Hell, if I was their attorney, I’d point out that the game has a history of causing murder sprees, and it’s a decent defense to raise, which makes the ending argument really, really dumb.

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Is the book made of human skin evil? We’ll tell you at 11.

Honestly, this is almost a decent movie, it just doesn’t go anywhere. They just stretched a joke premise into 80 minutes, like Boss Baby, but it wasn’t funny… like Boss Baby. I really wish it had been either better or worse, because it really comes out as quality-pH 7. It also is never explained how they actually managed to kill this many people, since it’s revealed that one of them was using a stick. Not a large stick, just a stick. I mean, one guy got killed for trying to use a rubber mallet in his assault, and that’s significantly more lethal than the stick. Also, at the end, the police mention that the game was, indeed, banned because it caused people to go on killing sprees, which makes it more confusing that these guys tried the game in the first place, because that’s not a rumor, that’s a Federal law. Also, is it magic? Or is it chemical? I mean, they complain that the game smells, so, it’s possible that it’s just a hallucinogen. Also, the game clearly took like 12 hours of playing to start possessing them, so… how many people really could have had the dedication to play this game to the point of murderous rage?

This movie had some entertaining sequences, but the ending just felt like they ran out of budget, and the fact that about 30 minutes of it is just people reading a book and rolling dice really didn’t help. The movie wasn’t self-aware enough to be Chucky-sequel entertaining, wasn’t bad enough to be The Room level entertaining, and wasn’t good enough to be… good. But, I’ll be damned if the pots and pans armor wasn’t funny.

Skip this movie, unless you’ve really got a lot of alcohol and have run out of other bad movies.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Trailer:

Notes:

Preliminary: Sober, slightly ill, and bracing myself. I’ve been told this is better than Iconoclast, but that bar is basically saying “less crazy than Manson.” Hopefully, this one will at least keep my interest.

7:45 – Movie starts with a quote by William Howard Taft that I’m 90% sure is not actually by William Howard Taft. A cursory Google during the credits indicates that it’s unsourced and just being repeated on the internet. Auspicious start.

7:46 – Film quality is significantly better than Iconoclast, but not much above Birdemic. Starts off in police interrogation in medias res.

7:47 – Main character introduces himself as Torkul of Darkhaven, and I’m already slightly worried about the writing. The acting of the other characters in the scene is… I’m gonna have to go with The Room level, but without the dedication.

7:53 – Flashback begins. Oh my God, it’s Jumanji meets DnD. The TV is a tube tv and they’re playing the Dragon’s Lair NES Port, so I’m guessing it’s either the 90s, or they’re poor.

7:55 – And the main characters just said that it’s “Jumanji shit.” At least they know what they’re ripping off. If this ends up just being like that Tom Hanks movie “Mazes and Monsters,” and it’s just in their heads, I might applaud.

8:07 – After a 10-minute montage of 3 stoned guys trying to play this RPG (amounting to 1/8 of the total runtime) and complaining about how bad the game smells, we finally get to the magic shit. The magic effects look like the rotoscoping from Tron and the Bakshi Lord of the Rings. This movie came out in 2016, so that’s dated, but… eh, fuck, I love Tron and Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, so it’s working for me.

8:12 – Okay, so they woke up in completely different positions around the room to hear about a murder, the game has changed, and they decide to just keep playing. Yeah, I get nuts about finishing games too.

8:19 – I think the writers greatly overestimated how much audiences would enjoy having rulebooks and lore read to them onscreen for large amounts of time by guys who either are stoned, or play it very well.

8:21 – I get that they’re supposed to be descending into Madness and stuff, but they’re either overselling it or underselling it by just repeating the same lines 5 times.

8:22 – Okay, more rotoscoping-style stuff. Again they wake up in different positions to hear about a murder, and they go back to playing. It’s now been at least 2 full days of playing. This cursed game really takes its time. Jumanji started stuff on roll 1.

8:26 – These guys are not good actors. It was not a great decision to focus most of the movie on them just talking and reading a book aloud.

8:29 – “Roll a 3, take the Right Path. Roll a 4, take the Left.” Okay, but… it’s a 6-sided die. What do they do with the other numbers? I NEED ANSWERS!!!!

8:31 – Alright, rather than the magic this time, they’re just putting on Pots and pans as armor. I might love this movie.

8:36 – “Go back to oblivion to suck on your mother’s teat” might be my new favorite way to call someone out. But now the crazy gamer has a rubber mallet, and the other guy is a mechanic with a tire iron. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t win.

8:37 – To the movie’s credit, he didn’t win.

8:40 – Okay, so they killed a ton of people, including a child. I’m very intrigued as to how this works out. I want it to turn out that all of these people actually were possessed, but I think we’re going the straight route.

8:50 – And now they’re challenging each other to a fight, but then they still have to play the rest of the game by dice rolling. I… Don’t know what the rules are here.

8:57 – “It’s a game.” “It’s not a game.” X 20 is apparently the dialogue now.

8:58 – WHAT? THAT’S THE END? THAT’S NOT AN ENDING!!!

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