Monday, November 22, 2021

The TV Told Me To

It's hilarious to me when someone complains about modern horror being too "political". Is it possible that the same people who complain about Black Lives Matter motivating 2021's Candyman thought 1992's Candyman was some kind of mindless slasher? Did they sleep through the part that explains the legacy of Daniel Ribedou, and just not see ANYTHING social in terms of how a single white lady's beating trumps multiple murders in order to finally bring down a criminal who had previously limited his crimes to his own color?

Anyhoo, I mention this because today's feature is, in a word, political. 

Try not to be bothered.

Quick Plot: Nick is reluctantly bringing his girlfriend Annji to meet his rather awful family for Christmas. While mom Beth is friendly enough, dad Tony is a bigoted jerk, pregnant sister Kate is a ditzy racist, her husband Scott, more muscles than brain, and grandpa (played by the always good-at-being-terrible David Bradley) even worse than Walder Frey.

Nick and Annji attempt to make an early escape before breakfast but hit a (literal) roadblock: the house has been barricaded by some form of unbreakable steel-like substance. Their phones don't work, and the only contact they have with the outside world is their television.

The cable might be out, but their screen has some messages, beginning with the film's very title. Tony, a long-time rule follower and ardent fan of bureaucracy, is quick to assume the messages are government-issued and meant to be followed to a tee. When it tells them their food has been contaminated, Tony forces the whole kitchen in the trash. When a pack of seven dirty needles is sent into their home via a one-way chute, Tony is quick to inject himself with whatever mystery tonic is promised.

Groan, you might say, assuming Await Further Instructions is a commentary on the public's willingness to get vaccinated. Relax: much like the similarly extremely pandemic-appropriate-but-made-pre-pandemic Vivarium, Await Further Instructions was filmed before any of us had heard of COVID-19.

And of course, that's in part what makes it so interesting. Unfolding like a severe Twilight Zone episode, Await Further Instructions is part of that wonderfully off-kilter horror subgenre: part supernatural mystery, and bigger part throw-humans-in-a-philosophical-conundrum-and-watch-them-fall-apart drama. 

The Milgrams --yes, the family name is a tad on the nose, though also something of a surprise misdirect -- are a pretty rough lot. A slightly deeper screenplay might have taken a tad more time in fleshing them out, as some of the film's more affective moments come when our slightly black-or-white characters seem to be actually thinking outside of their narrow boxes. Still, a year plus of watching the worst of humanity make an international pandemic far more deadly than needed makes it hard to, well, be too hard on screenwriter Gavin Williams for creating a cast that would rather trust racist instincts than modern science.


Directed by the late Johnny Kevorkian, Await Further Instructions is not exactly a fun watch, what with the muddy politics and rather terrible human beings. Still, the fact that such a specifically quarantine-set thriller was made two years before we all started debating vaccines and sourdough recipes is rather fascinating, and it's hard to not see the film as an interesting, unfinished commentary on how some portions of society might handle this kind of disaster.

Of course, this being a British film made in 2018, Await Further Instructions is probably more about Brexit than mask mandates, but that's less obvious to a dumb American like myself, and the film I got was thoughtful, if flawed. It doesn't quite go where you might initially expect (both a good and bad thing) and it can be a bit shrill along the way, but it's wholly original and effectively frightening for a variety of reasons, even if some happened after the fact. 

High Points
Plenty of credit where it's due: Await Further Instructions is a genuinely surprising film, with a few plot turns and sudden jumps that I was not necessarily prepared for

Low Points

I get tired of saying it, but it's my (unpaid) job: a figurative dark movie is not legally required to be literally dark. As a rule, most audiences prefer to actually see things when they watch a film

Lessons Learned
There are some ingenious people working in government

When your boyfriend tells you that his family is racist and horrible, you should probably listen

Always stay stocked on bottled water

If COVID-related drama (even unintentionally so) makes you anxious, then you're best skipping Await Further Instructions. For the rest of us weirdos, this is a neat (if imperfect) dose of bizarro what-if. Find it on Netflix if you're so inclined. 


  1. I suspect when people complain about movies being too political, they either disagree with those politics... or/and dislike simplistic and overtly didactic presentations. Screaming rather than whispering the moral at the end of the fable. Preachy and condescending... like overly on the nose soundtrack or pulling sharp focus on some detail that was telling well enough without.
    All stories are political on some level.

    Anyway, on topic, this looks interesting and I'll definitely check it out. Thanks again for pointing the way.

    1. Well said! I'll be really curious to hear what you think. It's an odd one!

  2. I agree with knobgobbler in that everything is political to some extent. I think it's easier to stomach with older films because current audiences aren't as familiar with (or sick of) the subject matter of since they aren't bombarded with those topics through news and social media. I recently saw a new film that I liked but the subject matter was something I'm tired of hearing about and that did affect how much I enjoyed the film, and I felt guilty for that. Kind of a strange film viewing experience.

    1. Definitely. I was just talking about that with The Purge franchise. I have so much affection and respect for the films and TV series, but everything is so on the nose (not in a poorly executed way, just in a way you can't NOT recognize) that it becomes impossible to "enjoy." And hey, maybe that's the point, but I often come to horror for an escape, and that just becomes less and less an option. It's a conundrum!

  3. Yeah, it makes me wonder if some films that make me roll my eyes with an "ugh, too topical" response now, will age well so that I like them more in the future when these topics aren't so hot. Like how I used to DESPISE the word 'proactive' when it was a real buzz word like 15 years ago, but after a well-deserved break I've come to love it and use it lots. It's hard to imagine feeling the same way about today's buzz words but I bet even 'pivot' and 'unprecedented' will eventually find a place in my heart too (maybe).