*. Not bad. Mostly it’s a movie that swings and misses, but not by a lot.
*. We begin with an aerial shot of a car as it drives along. This is such a horror staple I have to wonder when it began. The Shining?
*. The set-up is the basic Game of Death situation. (There’s an index of my notes on these movies in my jottings on Escape Room.) A family has gotten together for the holidays. When they get up Christmas morning their suburban house has been totally sheathed in some strange kind of black metal. There’s no way out. They still have power, however, and their television set gives them prompts that they feel compelled to obey. These commands become more sinister as time goes on and the family, a dysfunctional unit to begin with, falls apart in a spectacular way. Who will survive?
*. There are moments when it seems as though the whole thing is going to play as comedy. The holiday-horror with family in-fighting among stereotypes (the authoritarian father, the downtrodden mom trying to keep things together, the bigoted grandpa, the dumb jock and his airhead pregnant wife) reminded me of Krampus.
*. And this is in fact how part of it plays. They do mine these characters, and the situation, for broad laughs at times, but I can’t say it ever feels like a comedy, no matter how black. Writer Gavin Williams was concerned that the humour wouldn’t come across. It does, or at least the effort does, but that doesn’t help. It’s a satire, but in an obvious way. And obvious satire always seems unnecessary.
*. There is also a fairly obvious analogy to various social psychology experiments about deference to authority. These come into play regularly in this subgenre. I’ve written about this before, and I had made a note about how this all seemed like one of Stanley Milgram’s experiments even before the mother announces that the family’s name is in fact Milgram and they live on Stanford Street.
*. But such a reference also dates the movie somewhat, as does the presentation of the television as the ultimate source of authority, the God of the new world order. Surely in a wireless age a feature-length PSA about the importance of cutting the cord is a bit behind the times. This would have been a more relevant message twenty (or should that be thirty?) years ago.
*. The thing about a lot of the Game of Death movies is that the explanation for what’s going on is often either left vague or isn’t very convincing. Here it’s a bit of both. I guess the force behind what’s happening is something alien. Why it would be going about its business in such a complicated way is beyond me though. What were their plans for those backward parts of the world without cable? And why do they treat people like contestants in a reality TV show? Perhaps they’ve been drawn to Earth from watching our programming and so discovered our weakness for such fare.
*. Nor do I understand their endgame. To show Teletubbies to infants? If the alien is parasitical, what exactly does it need humans for? Simply to watch and to adore?
*. Perhaps it’s just that the television gods move in strange and mysterious ways. I mean, why kill Grandpa first? He seems to be the one old-school couch potato in the whole family. If anyone was going to welcome our new cable overlords, he’d be the guy.
*. This mystery isn’t all that interesting, and as it develops I just didn’t think the movie was going anywhere. The characters all act in over-the-top, hard-to-fathom ways. When things get really odd they fall apart entirely. The message is, as I’ve said, both obvious and dated: resist, or at least learn to question, authority. Meanwhile the special effects and gore, mostly practical, are nothing special. In fact the cable creature is kind of silly.
*. It’s not a bad movie, but we’ve been here before. A small group locked up together and coming undone under pressure. It’s Big Brother, Game of Death, or whatever other cultural analog you want to plug in. Await Further Instructions doesn’t add anything to the mix aside from its nostalgic anxiety over the influence of the tube (and we’ve had scary TVs in movies before as well, at least since the 1980s). Finally I just got a general feel of unpleasantness from the proceedings that didn’t help. This is a family I really didn’t want to be locked up with for 90 minutes. As downbeat as the ending was, I still felt relief when it was over.