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If you've ever felt like social media platforms are turning your friends into zombies, then Antisocial might just be the movie to make those fears as literal as possible. It takes a host of genre standards and presents them in a novel context with just enough polish to make the well-worn feel a little fresh.
The film takes place in what looks and feels like the present (with certain elements cranked to 11). A significant part of anyone's ‘human' interaction takes place online and privacy is non-existent with everybody being perversely aware of everybody else's business. Sam (Michelle Mylett) experiences this first hand when she gets dumped over a video chat while her boyfriend is texting another woman and simultaneously updating his relationship status for their entire social circle to see. She drowns her sorrows by going to a party hosted by Mark (Cody Thompson), her bestie with testes who's too much of a gentleman to put the moves on her. Also present are Kaitlin (Ana Alic), Steve (Romaine Waite) and Jed (Adam Christie).
As it turns out the party is a bit of a non-starter. As soon as Sam gets there, the outside world promptly goes to hell in a hand-basket. People start turning into rage-driven bloodthirsty zombies (although I can't remember if the z word is ever used). The phenomenon is blamed on a mysterious virus that is spreading like wildfire. The virus seems to be linked to a certain social media site that looks like a Facebook clone but the exact method of its transmission remains unknown. Next thing you know, the film's turned into an us-versus-them scenario with our gang of five trying to keep the murderous outsiders at bay while trying to avoid infecting themselves. As you've probably guessed, they're not entirely successful.
Antisocial isn't the first film to explore the horrors of killer electronic transmissions or unexplainable infections (The Signal and Pontypool both spring to mind). It does, however, make a wholesale commitment to postulating one potential endgame that our social media obsessed culture could face some day. The reality of its early scenes is spiked with a dash of satire but it still rings true. This attempt at verisimilitude is what makes the sudden unraveling of society feel a bit more believable. As soon as the proverbial dookie hits the fan, director Cody Calahan (making his feature length debut) sees his opportunity to enter terrain less tethered to reality. You see, before individuals complete their transformation into rage monsters, they have hallucinations. In these freak-outs, the virus is visualized as a slimy, gross many-tentacled thing which the special effects department has a field day with.
Once you get past the hallucinations though, the victims of the virus become decidedly less interesting. They might be deadlier than ever but this is the sort of stuff we've seen before…blood gushing from nose and mouth, chasing our heroes around the house driven by a desire to kill. This is one area where Calahan and crew falter. Try as they might, these sequences don't really feel novel or surprising. Even when the staging features unusual elements (love those Christmas lights), they still end in predictable fashion. The other quibble I have is with the tonal shift in the climax. We go from a serious-minded examination of the debilitating effects of social media (albeit in a horror context) to an over-the-top gore laden bit which has our leads attempting impromptu surgery on themselves using rusty power tools. The climax works well enough on its own but feels detached from everything that led up to it.
The performances are fairly solid with the core cast inhabiting their characters quite nicely. Michelle Mylett imbues her lead character with enough vulnerability and steely resolve that it's easy to see why Cody Thompson's character is drawn to her. For his part, Thompson takes on the tough task of playing the group's de factor leader even though he isn't comfortable with many of the tough choices that have to be made. Alic, Waite and Christie perform admirably as well. They feel like real people in a horrible situation rather than faceless virus bait. Calahan clearly got ambitious with his debut and from where I'm standing, it looks like his efforts paid off. The film isn't completely successful but it has been crafted with more care and ingenuity (wait till you see how the dead keep posting videos online) than I'm used to seeing with low-budget genre entries.
The anamorphic widescreen image is presented with sufficient clarity and detail. The color palette is intentionally flat with drab exterior shots and interiors that are bathed in blues and greys. Black levels are decent with adequate shadow detail. Some shots feature additional grain but not to an intrusive extent. CGI shots are well integrated making the hallucinations feel seamless and extra creepy.
The audio is presented in a Stereo mix with optional English subtitles. While a surround mix would have been nice, the stereo mix certainly gets the job done. Dialogue comes through loud and clear at all time while the soundtrack gets plenty of room to breathe. The music during the opening scenes has a pulsing, nervous energy that helps set the mood and the early party scenes are accompanied by a dollop of dubstep that support the stylish speed-ramped visuals.
For a small independent film, this release features its fair share of extras. First up, we have an Audio Commentary with Director Cody Calahan and Cinematographer Jeff Maher. It's an informative (and brutally honest) track with equal participation from both speakers. Calahan isn't shy about discussing production challenges and Maher is equally candid while covering the lighting and blocking of various shots. They both have a wry sense of humor which prevents the track from ever being boring or dryly professional. I think this is the sort of audio commentary that plenty of budding filmmakers could benefit from immensely.
Further detail on the production is provided by a Behind the Scenes featurette (16:43). It includes interviews with the core cast and crew (including the director, cinematographer, associate producer and production designer). While there is plenty of enthusiasm and effusive praise on display, this doesn't feel like a puff piece. The speakers sound genuinely engaged and eager to discuss what they enjoyed about the production including how they worked around challenges that presented themselves. A Photo Gallery and Trailer (1:49) round out the extras.
Antisocial enters a fairly crowded horror sub-genre (the zombie flick) but manages to carve out a little spot for itself thanks to a creative setup. Its view of our reliance on social media as a viral infection is smart enough to make up for some of the rote plotting that creeps in during the film's midsection. Director Cody Calahan, working with a capable cast and crew, has put together a debut that is flawed but ambitious. The film isn't a slam dunk but it does make me curious to see what he'll do next. Recommended.