Cinepocalypse 2018: Await Further Instructions (2018 - dir. Johnny Kevorkian)

review by Jim Laczkowski
playing tonight at 9:30 - for more info
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The influence of Black Mirror on modern-day horror and science fiction storytelling was inevitable.  Clearly, that remarkably dark series of short films stems from a love of the Twilight Zone as well.  So nowadays, originality itself can be a challenge since writers often become storytellers due to inspiration and other works they've come across in various mediums.  I rarely see something that isn't' easy to predict.  Which is what makes Johnny Kevorkian's AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS such a surprise, particularly as this disturbing story progresses.

It's Christmas Day and the Milgram family (yes Milgram) wake in the middle of the night to find a mysterious black substance surrounding their house.  It looks like something out of Cronenberg's VIDEODROME, particularly when a slit begins to pulsate.  But this is not a prank of any kind.  Something monumental is clearly happening right outside their door, but what exactly - an industrial accident, a terrorist attack, nuclear war?  Clearly, it seems plausible that the government could be involved in helping families cope with an outside force as cryptic messages are prominently displayed on the TV.   Descending into terrified arguments, they become desperate for any information that can elaborate on the situation. On screen, a message glows ominously: 'Stay Indoors and Await Further Instructions'. As the television exerts an ever more sinister grip, their paranoia escalates into very destructive behavior. 

At first, I was reminded of one of my truly great fears: being trapped.  Something as simple as that is liable to have an effect on me, no matter what the environment or context.  Home invasion scenarios certainly work on me, despite the fact that they are a bit played out at this point in time (see the recent sequel to THE STRANGERS).  Being trapped in familiar surroundings that are normally considered to be safe is a really enticing setup with the inclusion of a television assigning this family certain tasks to accomplish.  Without giving too much away, it is a revealing mystery that doesn't overstay its welcome or become tedious to observe.  The breakdown of the family unit may also be a familiar trope but where it ultimately ends up is a bit of a shock to the system.  I tend to tense up when stories like these ratchet up the paranoia and AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS is no exception. 

Without spoiling the final act, I suddenly transported to a time when I was younger, seeing a film that legitimately terrified me based on the idea as well as when a human body is no longer, well, human.  The ultimate reveal and final shot also linger in the mind, thinking about what other stories could be taking place within the story.  In that regard, I thought of the excellent sci-fi thriller COHERENCE, that took the dinner party concept and mixed it up with thought-provoking physics.  AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS doesn't quite reach that film's strengths did with its limited budget, but it will easily appeal to a midnight movie crowd eager for something unexpected and a bit nastier.  Strangely enough, on the eve of a new Nine Inch Nails record being released, the final minutes did bring to mind some of Trent Reznor's visual touches he created for the music videos he made for the BROKEN era.  Obviously, it isn't always pleasant to watch a family disintegrate into chaos and madness, but this is a compelling example that goes in directions that are more than surprising.  It's an infecting escalation of claustrophobia mixed with quality gore that manages to make you wonder how it will ultimately play out.  When it finally does, you'll likely revel at its originality as opposed to shrugging it off.