When you’re dealing with technology in a horror film (or darn near any other genre’ for that matter), you’re destined to date yourself at some point down the line. Today’s cutting-edge technology is tomorrow’s Atari 2600; once you put it on film, it stays there. That doesn’t mean that film displaying dated technology is doomed, far from it, but it places the film squarely in the moment in which it was created, better or worse. Such is the challenge with Cody Calahan’s Antisocial, a film that leans on our current leaning on social media for much of our day-to-day lives. Today this makes sense but a few years from now, who knows?
Regardless, for a film that takes a swing at a less-than-original idea about the transmission of a virus through electronic means, Antisocial does get a lot right in the creative-thinking department. You find yourself reflecting on how you conduct your life in relation to these social networks and in this audience reflection the film garners its strongest results. Without that projection through the fourth wall, the science of the thing starts to not make a whole lot of sense when you stop to think about it.
The film focuses its initial attention on Sam (the excellent Michelle Mylett), a college student struggling with school and also her clearly philandering boyfriend among other problems. Sam seems aloof at first but it is through the all-too familiar trappings of young love betrayed that we become more in her corner. This is presented as an almost ‘public shaming’ via social media (in this case, a fictional social networking site) when word leaks out about the breakup and, seemingly, the circumstances. You feel for Sam not because she can’t fend for herself but because she cannot control the lightning quick pace at which word gets around.
Foreshadowing? Yes, just a little bit.
Sam makes her way to a friend’s home for a New Year’s Eve party but almost as quickly as she makes it there do things out in the world start to go badly. This is presented in a kind of scattershot way, bits and pieces that reference back to an earlier scene at the start of the film with two young women doing a video-blog that goes really really bad. Our six friends are unclear as to what is really going on and in the confusion they dig themselves deeper into the deadly mess that is erupting all around them.
There are fantastic moments in the ‘what is going on?’ portion of the film, and utterly fantastic body-horror/breakdown moments that really get after the true horror of what has befallen the users of the website. There is also a damned brilliant revelation about what might have started the whole thing that should give any constant user of social media, shopping sites etc etc etc some level of pause. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t seem content with a shadowy, hard to nail down genesis for this outbreak of violent, manic behavior and aggression and instead goes a bit exposition crazy trying to iron out all the details. It is one of the more confounding things about the film because, at its core, it could have been a totally gonzo, crazy explosion of a disease outbreak and the ensuing brutal violence it causes encased in a sharp, bitter critique of our overly connected world.
Instead, you get moments of ugly, unpleasant violence and dread mixed with goofy, over-the-top handling of the outbreak. The two don’t jive in the best way possible so more often than not you’re not sure if you should be on the edge of your seat or just chuckling at it all. It is a straight-up social satire, or, a dire warning about trusting large corporations with access to the machine of your daily lives? The film kind of wants it both ways and both the bloody, brutal violence and desperation bourne out of the mess and the more light-hearted comical observations about it seem to fight for space. It isn’t totally unsuccessful and it isn’t a perfectly balanced production either, it kind of sits firmly in the middle.
And maybe that is okay in the long run. Director and Co-Writer Cody Calahan does bring a lot of ideas and interesting explorations of the topic to the table. It is just a situation where a clearly creative group of folks may have gotten too bogged down in the details of the thing to see the bigger picture of what the film is saying, or rather trying to say. I would have liked less exposition and more leading the viewer openly in a film that, ultimately, may not have a shelf life too far beyond the social media fears it is built upon. That is not to say it is not worth a watch, it absolutely is, but it is worth noting that a less complicated and less technology reliant story would probably have driven the point home better. Still, I look forward to what Calahan and leading lady Michelle Mylett have in store next.