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by Jay Seaver

"Well worth sharing with friends and followers."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Antisocial" is an impressive little horror movie that distinguishes itself by showing how it's not necessarily what a movie does that matters, but how it pulls it off. Sure, the initial plot is built on a foundation of an alarmist view of modern life and iffy science (things that bug me), but the filmmakers work this material quite well - it becomes tense and downright clever by the time it reaches a finale that satisfies and leaves the audience hungry for more. It'd be easy to say this movie shouldn't work, but it actually should; we're just not used to seeing the effort to make it work put in.

Samantha (Michelle Mylett) is not having a great day - her boyfriend just broke up with her over the phone and had changed his relationship status online to "available" before she'd even hung up, she's far enough behind in her courses that she's attending a supplementary criminology lecture on New Year's Eve, and... Well, it's a rotten day. It's about to get worse; she heads to her best friend's place for a party, but the only guests who show up to join Mark (Cody Thompson), Jed (Adam Christie), Steve (Romaine Waite), and Steve's girlfriend Kaitlin (Ana Alic) are bleeding, ultra-violent lunatics, and the news says that this is happening all across the world.

There's a lot of it being thrown around on the various social media networks the characters frequent as well, and in a way, you've kind of got to feel for horror filmmakers where that's concerned. It only seemed like they'd just figured out how to use mobile telephones beyond the battery running out or the local area conveniently having no coverage when smartphones and social media started becoming common. That went through an "it's only good for stalkers and other creeps" and "kids paying too much attention to that will just get killed" period, and while there's still a bit of the latter present, director Cody Calahan and co-writer Chad Archibald mostly find ways to use it as a tool to build the scale of the film up as opposed to seeing it as a nuisance that keeps them from isolating their potential victims.

That does lead to a fair amount of people looking at screens and kind of checking out of conversations that are going on in the room, and those aren't really exciting in real life, much less movies, but it's handled well enough that it upends a basic horror-movie premise a bit, that there is "inside the house" and "outside the house". As much as Calahan makes the house a classic claustrophobic environment, he's also able to show what's going on outside as something that affects these folks personally without losing it. The picture's clever in other ways, using some nice misdirection and coming up with some enjoyably nasty surprises and developments as things go on.

Those surprises are well-balanced between gross and disturbing, and Calahan handles both well. Things get bloody in the opening credits, but the really nasty stuff is saved for later, when the film really seems to get on a roll and lets whoever is still around by then cut loose. In fact, there's surprisingly little in the way of extreme blood & guts, but Calahan milks them well and a good score by Steph Copeland amps up the tension. That said - my favorite bit is a gore-free moment involving Christmas lights. I also like the believable clumsiness to the way these non-trained college kids who don't really want to hit each other fight.

The cast is good, too, although it is initially a bit heavy on generically-decent-looking white guys (two of whom are named "Jed" and "Chad") early on, although they do eventually differentiate enough that Adam Christie's Jed is amusingly excitable and Cody Thompson is resolutely, if blandly, loyal. That's not to undersell Romaine Waite and Ana Alic, who do make Steve & Kaitlin more memorable than the black guy and blonde girl. At the center, Michelle Mylett turns out to be a very nice find: She's a strong enough presence on-screen to anchor a movie that is clearly going to be about Sam from the start and handles what the script throws at her without pushing the rest of the cast out of the picture.

"Antisocial" does plant some blatant seeds for a sequel, and there are moments on the way there when things get rough; there are reasons why a lot of filmmakers choose to work hard at avoiding the things Calahan embraces. But even if the resources aren't there to go full-Cronenberg, I like the way he and the rest of the folks making this movie are thinking, and that's a rare and fun thing to say about what could have been just another "infected" movie.

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originally posted: 08/02/13 03:37:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 28-Jan-2014



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