Starring David Bradley, Abigail Cruttenden, Holly Weston, Sam Gittins, Grant Masters, Neerja Naik, Kris Saddler
Written by Gavin Williams
Directed by Johnny Kevorkian
Johnny Kevorkian’s Await Further Instructions buzzes with *hard* sci-fi commentary meant to dissuade civilization’s unhealthy habit of enslavement to screened devices. Echoes of James Ward Byrkit’s suburban containment thriller Coherence ring throughout (atmospherically speaking) as a family’s Christmas holiday is put on hold by possible apocalyptic intrusions. Answers are sparse, but one thing is for certain – obey radiating mandates. Release control and worship televised messages as gospel. Kevorkian’s direction and Gavin Williams’ script make for a hypnotically balanced delve into digital brain rot, unexplained quarantines and blind trust in faulty systems. Outrageous genre commentary, or a disturbingly real warning in our most uneasy of times?
Look around. Decide for yourself.
Nick (Sam Gittins) and girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) return to Nick’s childhood home for a quaint yuletide visit. Mother Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) couldn’t be happier to see her son, but father Tony (Grant Masters) projects a strained relationship between Nick and the rest. As their first night presses on, Grandad (David Bradley) spouts racist hate speech, and pregnant sister Kate (Holly Weston) doesn’t behave much better despite her husband Scott’s (Kris Saddler) best attempts. All this leads to Nick’s midnight escape with Annji as everyone sleeps, but when he opens the front door, some kind of barrier blocks his exit. Same on the windows. Then the TV flickers its first of many directives – “Await Further Instructions.”
Kevorkian derives tension from each character’s unraveling under pressure. Beth focuses on keeping kitchen surfaces clean for future guests who’ll never come, Tony assumes the role of “shepherd” to his “flock,” Kate turns Scott against Nick and Annji – screen devotion aside, Await Further Instructions is about possible Stockholm Syndrome fits or crisis management. Allegiances split between those hanging onto every scrolling command (Tony/Scott) and those interested in demasking the mystery signal. Some conflicts are harder to buy given wasted effort in a doomsday scenario – intense racial bias against Annji, Tony’s unhinged workman’s attitude even while his with-child daughter lays dying on a table – but genre exploitation remains tense and tight like a neatly wrapped gift rigged to explode. Humans so rattled by the unknown, trapped like under a pot that’s being heated from the outside.
As one would expect, Await Further Instructions intensifies as new words and objectives are imposed upon the family. At first simple – talk of contamination and being told to scrub every inch of flesh with bleach – but antes never stop upping severity. Hypodermic needles containing a “vaccine” appear that Annji immediately identifies as used. “Extract Information From Sleeper Agent.” “Sacrifice To Save The Unborn.” With no connection to outside worlds, life or death is chosen by following rules. At no time does Kevorkian pump the brakes, filling rooms with thick black smoke to clean out breaches or playing right into Tony’s religious second-coming beliefs. Thrills by way of experimental human chess movements, pitting players against themselves instead of trying to win an overall game.
One might assume that diabolical psychological manipulation means little effects work is required, but such is not the case. SFX Designer Dan Martin plays around in a very Sequence Break way with cables and coils (remaining vague to avoid spoilers). Violent outbursts mean everything from exploding [redacted] to bone-exposed compound fractures, Event Horizon parallel nightmares to severed fingers. CGI doesn’t always paint the prettiest picture – Annika Summerson’s cinematography favors greenish hues of television glow as gore doesn’t always fit moody color schemes – but mucky carnage diversions liven a production backed by perplexed faces and acts of caged aggression. Just when you might be lulled into periodic dullness, anxiety spikes by way of simulation punishment. It’s a promise of stakes that are often fulfilled, especially during an exceptionally freaky finale realized to the film’s full thematic potential.
Await Further Instructions is a heady, hardwired robotrip via “Cult Of Apple” horrors proposed by our ever-evolving digital age. Home invasion chills meet overlord toxicity, all while aptly befuddled characters attempt to safely navigate trauma no one can explain. Midsection sequences sporadically drag as more and more demands delay a righteously deranged third act, but not enough to fry internal wiring beyond repair. Don’t think, don’t challenge authority, just do what you’re told. Such a damning message seared into flickering screens that keep Johnny Kevorkian’s lab rats glued like moths to a flame. We’ve all but accepted technology as our new God – this is the exploitative dive straight into televised mouths of madness we deserve. For what that’s worth alone, Await Further Instructions earns its clever dissection of screen culture and nasty desecration of one family’s not-so-jolly reunion.
Await Further Instructions launches into survivalist psychotics that embrace walled-in escalation, always building towards “that” finale. The ride is filled with highs and lows, but damn if Johnny Kevorkian doesn’t stick that landing.