4 out of 5
Directed by: Johnny Kevorkian
Await Further Instructions feels pretty dated for a 2018 movie – technology is out to get us! – and you’ll be kind of sussing out the whole way through which episode of Twilight Zone or Outer Limits you’ve seen this setup on, never mind that our family kept barred inside their home on Christmas by unseen forces and given instructions through their TV has the last name of ‘Milgram,’ which will clue you in to the infamous experiment that would seem to inform the inevitable way people start to turn on one another. And when the ending rolls around, I’ll forgive you for throwing your hands up in exclamations of how ridiculous it is, but then I’ll shove you out of the room to go chat about great foreign films with your movie friends while I revel in just how ridiculous the movie gets, and luxuriate in its oddball mash-up of (light) body horror and ‘submitted for your approval’ swipes.
Nick and Annji are visiting Nick’s parents for the holiday. The trepidation Nick experiences in the car outside is familiar for any variation of these movie setups; Nick’s submissive mum, domineering dad, snippy sister and her doofy husband, and a racist grandpa are of the same variety. What’s nice, though, is that writer Gavin Williams gives most of these people a voice that’s a few shades deeper than the normal cookie cutter variants we’d get, and director Johnny Kevorkian, though casting his flick in a drab greenish hue throughout, isn’t trying to make it too flashy: this could be a holiday drama. Both couples stand up for each other appreciably; Dad is a dick whose proud of his workmanship, but his dickishness pales ‘neath the chiding of his father. Because the movie doesn’t revel in dumb conversations – when something off is said, people speak to it, then move on – we can watch the holiday bickering, and nod approvingly when Nick and Annji (he’s a ‘pansy layabout’ in the family parlance; she’s ‘not American’) decide they’re done and pack up to take off the following morning.
Alas, all of the doors and windows are covered by some kind of metal grating. And then the TV starts telling them – via type on its screen – what to do.
Again, the preceding ‘follow instructions blindly’ formula isn’t a new one, but the room for characters and believable dialogue the film has allowed makes it watchable, as does the kind of cheekily antiquated concept, which foregoes cellphones (the satellites are down) and computers (the internet is out) for old(er) flatscreen-era TVs. And the pacing is planned well, with interrelation escalations spaced out such that no one goes nutso right away, and the instructions offered similarly spaced so that you can kind of understand going along with them, as they take their time getting to the more wild stuff.
On which the flick doesn’t balk. Await Further Instructions had my nod of approval, just for being enjoyable horror-lite / sci-fi-lite, but its final section is where it goes above and beyond, by my take: where most flicks would bow out at a certain point with a dumb twist, AFI just goes for it, and goes for it rather practically, which makes for immensely satisfying visuals.
And god bless the final few moments.