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Panic Button (2011)

Cover art:

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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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Gareth Jones