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Panic Button (2011)

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Panic ButtonStarring Scarlett Alice Johnson, Jack Gordon, Michael Jibson, Elen Rhys

Directed by Chris Crow


You may just wish to rethink how strong a prevalence online social networking has in your life after viewing Chris Crow’s British techno-thriller Panic Button. Four individuals by the name of Jo, Max, Dave and Gwen are the lucky winners of a competition hosted by social network site All2Gether.com – the Grand Prize being an all expenses paid trip to New York. Meeting at the airport, the gang introduce themselves to each other and are then led onto the flight, where they are informed that in order to claim their prize they must partake in, and complete, an in-flight game. The rules stipulate that before boarding, each much relinquish their mobile phones and any other way to contact the world on the ground.

Once on their private jet, the foursome are seated in individual chairs with a monitor for eac, and waste no time getting stuck in to the complimentary champagne while getting to know their travel partners. Shortly after takeoff, an animated alligator appears on-screen, and a gentlemanly voice welcomes them to the game over the embedded speaker system. The first round begins with a series of questions for each that it is stressed must be answered truthfully, or repercussions will follow. Personal questions are asked of the contestants, who react glibly with lies and half-truths before the Alligator abruptly reveals the, at times very uncomfortable, true answers to their questions using information gleaned from their All2Gether profiles and traced interactions at other online sites.

Furthermore, the penalty for failing to answer these questions honestly is revealed to be the death of a random friend from the failing contestant’s profile, displayed on their monitors in a real-time first-person perspective courtesy of the organisation’s goons stationed outside each acquaintance’s home. Coming to terms with the severity of the situation, and with a little technical abuse of their own, the group discover that the flight isn’t bound for New York at all. Rather, they’re headed for Oslo. More precisely, they’re headed straight for the site of All2Gether.com’s head office building. So begins a race against time to uncover the true identity of the mysterious Alligator and the binds that tie them all together as targets of the madman and find a way to get off the plane before the will to survive, and the will of their captor, turns them on each other.

Packed full of excellent performances and some solid, assured direction, Panic Button is a thriller with its finger firmly on the pulse of this technological generation. The script is tight and focused (despite sporting multiple writing credits), and the first act in particular is riveting stuff, brimming with mystery and tension. The main characters are well drawn and believable, with the game’s first round providing what is easily the best section of the film as lies are instantly challenged and outward personas forcibly stripped. It’s a masterful inversion of the social positions concerning online and real life self-presentation – the internals of the plane turned chat-room versus the reality of the network profile. It’s also guaranteed to have you simultaneously engrossed and contemplating just how much information about your own life, job, family, activities and attitudes could be pieced together by determined individuals with even just a little internet investigation; information that may be particularly sensitive when used in a certain context, but posted absent-mindedly through absorption into online life.

As the story continues, though, the intensely smart nature of Panic Button gives way to a more functional close-quarters actioner sporting some particularly pedestrian motivations for the protagonist to be doing what he’s doing. A couple of the twists work well in context, but they’ve all been seen before – not least one of which in a sequel to Saw, a film that Panic Button will invariably be compared to. Saw on a Plane this is not, however, for the main part eschewing violence and bloodshed in exchange for an atmosphere of brooding menace and skilfully played tension. The undercooked climax and frankly preposterous final scene prove difficult to forgive, but the efforts of a great cast, and some genuine talent behind the camera, manage to keep Panic Button elevated above average. With a slightly different direction in the second half, it likely could have been so much more; yet, as it stands, it is still well worth your time.

3 out of 5

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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User Rating 2.94 (17 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

Directed by Martin Gooch


Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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Summary

Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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