5th October 2018 (Grimmfest Northern Premiere)
It's Christmas Day and the Milgram family wake to find a mysterious black substance surrounding their house. Something monumental is clearly happening right outside their door, but what exactly - an industrial accident, a terrorist attack, nuclear war?
David Bradley, Holly Weston, Sam Gittins
It’s Christmas Day and the Milgram family wake to find a mysterious black substance surrounding their house. Something monumental is clearly happening right outside their door, but what exactly – an industrial accident, a terrorist attack, nuclear war? Descending into terrified arguments, they turn on the television, desperate for any information. 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 bloody carnage.
There’s clearly something amiss with the family dynamics as soon as we meet the Milgrams. Await Further Instructions predominantly follows Nick (Sam Gittins) and his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) as they visit Nick’s parents for the Christmas. As soon as they arrive, Nick’s dad Tony (Grant Masters) seems less than impressed by his attendance, while the ignorance of his pregnant sister Kate (Holly Weston) is directed towards Annji’s heritage and skin colour. Not one to single anybody out, Grandad’s (David Bradley) insensitive comments are aimed at the entire family and the state of the country.
The introduction of this unit is an impressive and genuine one. The friction between all of them sparks from the screen and their interactions raise some delightfully uncomfortable laughs. David Bradley’s cranky and strongly opinionated Grandad character is a real standout, spewing outdated views from a bygone generation that no doubt have been heard by countless families around the Christmas dinner table.
The success of how believable Await Further Instructions‘ set up is can also be attributed to its strong opening. Before the barricading blackout, news reports of a potential terrorist attack right in the heart of the city increase the paranoia of a family whose warped views are dangerous enough. It’s not too much of a stretch to get on board with the fact that these people, who get the extent of their World knowledge from the box in the front room, would unquestionably follow directions from the TV.
It’s a shame then that the dark humour doesn’t continue into its second act. Whether this is intentional or deliberately removed to focus on the intriguing events at hand, the film does falter a little for putting forward the promise of a lighter tone before snatching it away again. Consequently, the majority of characters largely lose their personalities too, becoming interchangeable and ultimately expendable.
The third act ventures into the tonal abyss of a David Lynch and Cronenberg picture, but due to the lengthy absence of the pitch-dark playfulness in its mid section, I wasn’t sure whether the was supposed to be taken seriously. It sure does have some striking imagery, with disturbingly stellar special effects work by Dan Martin (who provided prosthetic work for ABCs of Death 2, Journeyman and Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire amongst others) being a major selling point.
Let’s rewind a little though. Await Further Instructions is at its best when, much like the Milgram’s, we’re in the dark about what’s happening. Immediately after discovering the house is covered in what can only be described as indestructible strips of liquorice, the TV begins to give them instructions. It’s this blindly following of orders where the film will grab your attention and have you forming theories as to what, if anything, is going on.
It made me think of the utterly distressing 2012 picture Compliance, in which fast food workers do whatever a police officer on the phone tell them to, regardless of how ludicrous and sinister the commands become. While the resulting conclusion isn’t as surprising as I’d have liked (it never usually is, so that’s not too much of a criticism), Gavin Williams’ absolutely believes in his script and goes all-out weird in an unrestrained and ambitious finale.
Await Further Instructions is a curious cautionary Christmas tale that will, hopefully, make you think twice about what you see or hear in the media – especially if it begins asking you to dispose of unsanitised needles that have been through your fireplace.
Stellar special effects work
Strong set up and character friction in opening act
Raises worrying questions about reliance on the media
Removal of dark humour from the first act affects character personalities