The most successful horror movies pale in box office to marginally successful films of other genres. Horror video games will never break sales records set by first-person shooters. And horror novels will generally be relegated to lower places on the bestsellers lists. This column is not going to say that horror doesn’t have it’s hits. It’s just that, in the grand scheme of things, in comparison to other genres, horror fans are generally left Scared Hitless.
Horror seemingly loves to embrace technology, and turn it into an enemy. Think back to movies like Pulse, Videodrome, or The Lawnmower Man to see this trend. Of course, as with many other entries into the horror genre, the results have been varied. Sometimes, mixing technology into the horror yarns yields powerful results. Other times it just ends up coming across as a cheesy attempt to wink at the current times. It is this sort of time-stamping that forces horror relying on technology to sometimes attempt to bring in another piece of the genre as well. In 2013, a group of Canadian filmmakers attempted to do just that, mixing today’s reliance on social media with the world of zombies. The result? A little movie titled Antisocial, which, ironically, could have benefited from telling just a little less.
Everyone is overly reliant on social media, and a lot of us have a sort of “always online” mentality, because of this. No matter your network of choice, you know (or possibly are) someone who spends far too much time relaying pieces of information out to the internet as a whole. Sure, you’re trying to drive it to your specific audience (whether that be friends, co-workers, or any other group of like-minded individuals you choose), but the trick with the “social” aspect of social media is that, once it’s out there, you don’t really control it any longer. The filmmakers take this one step further, to the point where social media is actually the vector for a virus that will destroy humanity.
A group of college students (Mark, Jed, Kaitlin, and Steve) get together to throw a New Year’s Eve party. Samantha is also invited, but isn’t really feeling up to it, having just broken up with her boyfriend via video chat. However, Sam’s going to show up anyway, because she’s friends with them, and she really wants to tell Mark that she’s pregnant (which is clearly what she was trying to tell her boyfriend when he decided to end the relationship). There isn’t a whole lot more information given out, which is actually at first a pretty clever way of handling things for the film. After all, the film is definitely utilizing the concepts of social media to drive the story forward. Therefore, it makes sense that, for the most part, what we see of the characters is just about what we’d see if we happened to follow them online. Sure, we might get a few deeper glimpses here and there, but the internet culture currently almost forces a level of anonymity. If there is any real defining trait to most of these characters, it’s that they just can’t disconnect, even with the world falling apart around them. Whether it’s the Facebook-esque site, video chats, or simple cell phone connectivity, the characters maintain their “always on” state, and it actually keeps them from really needing to have deeper motivations or personalities.
As mentioned above, Sam is pregnant, and her boyfriend breaks up with her, believing that was “the talk” she wanted to have with him. This leads to her going to a New Year’s Eve party thrown by her best friend (Mark, although we don’t really know how “best” of friends until late in the game). Once there, slowly a virus starts turning people into crazed attackers, resulting in death around every corner. The party group locks the doors, trying to keep the virus at bay, not realizing that it is somehow originating from their technology, causing hallucinations and nose bleeds before the brain is completely subsumed and they become something akin to the Rage zombies from 28 Days Later. For the first two-thirds of the film, the story moves at a casual pace. Yes, reports are of people dying. Yes, there are visible nose bleeds. However, it would seem that hallucinations being one of the symptoms would create fertile ground for an entire “is this real or not” line of questioning? The final third of the film, however, pushes aside that subtlety, making it clear about which reality is true. In many ways, the story could have been more, and left more of an impact, if it hadn’t devolved into a somewhat standard “will the Last Girl escape?” scenario.
The deaths are actually handled in a fairly realistic way, and yet, they’re somehow muted. Maybe it’s the fact that, for a good portion of the film, it’s possible that the uninfected are the “crazy” ones, it’s hard to feel anything really towards the first few deaths. After all, we don’t know if the “healthy” are actually the ones who are sick, and are killing their friends because their minds are lying, or if the “sick” ones are really that dangerous and need to be dealt with. However, once the reality of the situation becomes clear, the remaining deaths are handled in such a way as to be brutal, but not overly impactful. When we know a character’s time is extremely short as it is, having them die doesn’t really carry as much weight. Truth be told, the best “death” moments come either through hallucinations, or in a bit of surgery late in the game.
The film is largely trying to warn about the influence of social media on our lives, and the dangers of maintaining any sort of “always on” persona. Mixing social media with zombies could have even been a clever play, if the entire film had maintained the tone of the first hour or so, where the question of “which reality is correct” also seems to be posed. However, when it comes to the end, it is clear that the film is trying to advocate being more careful about utilizing an online presence, albeit it clearly isn’t stating that the internet should be avoided at all costs. After all, Jeb’s moment of hubris can be directly traced to his pride at having deactivated his account, especially in the way he immediately congratulated Sam on her recent account deletion. Also, given that the only way that anyone was receiving any sort of information, positive or negative, was through the internet, the use of the tool was highlighted, while underscoring the danger of overuse.
Does this review seem a little scattered? Honestly, that’s how the movie felt, as well. As mentioned above, the first hour doesn’t really take the time to dwell on deeper life truths for the protagonists, instead choosing to keep them fairly shallow while the virus runs its course. The hallucinations that were key to the virus even seemed like a way for the filmmakers to question whether or not perception truly creates reality, or if perception lies. And, honestly, the vector for the disease, while not necessarily new, began as a clever way to critique our “always on” culture. And then the last act of the movie happens, with a quick ditch effort to add in some more gore and shatter any illusion that the film was saying anything other than the basic “social media can be used for evil, so watch yourself” message. It’s not that the ending was bad, per se. It’s just that it felt a little tacked on to quickly finish the film, almost as though the ideas that had driven the beginning of the film ran dry, and they had to come up with a sort of hand-wave to explain things. The end result is a film that starts out fairly atmospheric, and one posed to ask questions, but, as the minutes tick by, it devolves into more standard fare, and becomes content giving the most blatant of answers.