By Jonathan Wojcik
ENTRY 23: AWAIT FURTHER INTRUCTIONS
Await Further Instructions is another British horror film, directed by Johnny Kevorkian and written by Gavin Williams. I would also like to say up front that while it only came out in 2018, it already...hasn't aged terribly well. In fact, several real world events may have irreversibly altered the meaning most people would glean from its story, at times almost painfully so, which is certainly a shame considering its intended meaning.
Nick (Sam Gittins) and his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) have come to visit Nick's family for Christmas. This includes Nick's parents Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) and Tony (Grant Masters), Nick's pregnant sister Kate (Holly Weston) with her husband Scott (Kris Saddler), and their exceedingly nasty granddad, Alfred (David Bradley). Tension begins almost immediately, as Nick's parents seem at least a bit awkward and subtly uncomfortable around Annji, who is of Indian descent. Kate even makes a disparaging remark about "foreign doctors" without realizing Annji's profession, and later argues with her over whether one of her "indian words" should count in scrabble.
...The word, by the way, was actually "tumult."
The atmosphere feels even more hostile when a news story speculates wildly about an alleged terrorist attack, and Grandpa Alfred vocally blames "them" for "letting just anyone" cross the border. Annji tries to speak her mind that this isn't fair, only for Kate to defend her crappy grandfather. Beth is clearly humiliated by her father's behavior, but afraid to stand up to the old man who positively won't shut the hell up about the "Johnny Achmeds and Bobby Bongo Bongos" allegedly ruining a country that "used to be great." Annji keeps a cooler head than anyone should have to in her position when she simply says it isn't right to perpetuate this kind of prejudice, which is for some reason upsetting enough to Kate that she feels it necessary to complain about Annji "coming into her home...with her tumults and her pumpkins and syrup" and by now I think you get the idea of this positively insufferable family.
Nick's father Tony demands he apologize when he swears at his dumbass sister, which Nick refuses. His mother begs him to still stay for Christmas, but he agrees with Annji that night to leave first thing in the morning.
...Really should have just walked back out and got a hotel somewhere.
The couple do get up well before anyone else, hoping to quietly sneak out...but when they open the front door, they find a strange black barrier blocking their exit. They wonder if it might be some kind of prank, but they find the same impenetrable shell blocking every other door and window. Nobody knows how or when it might have appeared, besides Beth remembering some strange banging sounds in the middle of the night.
The family's absurd theories vary from a "reality show" to a "natural disaster," until Tony suggests that it's part of some kind of emergency government quarantine, insisting that their government is quite capable of such a thing - and that it always knows best. Maybe you're already beginning to realize what I mean about this movie aging poorly, since barely another year after its release, the real world would be gripped in an ongoing controversy over how authorities responded to a global pandemic; an even few people could have predicted in 2018.
The family discovers that every television channel has become a text message: Stay Indoors and Await Further Instructions.
Tony recalls something similar from the past, impressed at how much more advanced his Fine Upstanding Government has become, and he along with much of the family become increasingly convinced that their country must be under attack by the same unknown, but almost certainly foreign party responsible for recent violence. The fact that it's occurring on Christmas is all the proof they need, since most of those other countries don't even celebrate it!
After arguments, conspiracy theories and more bigoted diatribes, the family still do their best to enjoy a normal, friendly dinner together, though dad's choice of words as he prays imply he's already retreating deeper into both his nationalism and his religious faith. He's a man who values his self-image as the authority figure of a household, and now the only one who can guide his family through an uncertain threat.
More racism and paranoia erupts among the elders when Annji keeps coughing, showing signs of a cold or a flu. The arguing is shouted down by Tony, who just wants to carve the turkey and have a normal dinner, until the television changes again...
The alert now claims that all food is contaminated, and for no one to eat anything at all. Taking it to heart, Tony bags up and locks away all food in the entire house. Next, the television orders everyone to strip naked and scrub their bodies with bleach to decontaminate, and Tony again insists they follow these deranged instructions.
There are some truly saddening moments between Tony and Beth at this point, in which she seems touched by affection between Nick and Annji, but her attempts to be romantic with her own husband are shut down by his cold, serious attitude.
Later, Beth convinces everyone to gather in the living room where Tony half-apologizes (not really) for his harsh behavior, but as they begin to talk out their differences, they are interrupted by an object falling out of their chimney: a bag of syringes.
Now the television suggests that they all must vaccinate against an unknown infection, and...yyyeah. This has, uh, gotten pretty awkward here. If this movie came out only a year and a half later, there'd be almost no way to interpret it as anything other than a scathing condemnation of "vaccine mandates."
However, Annji is a doctor herself, and she knows what a vaccine looks like. These are not vaccination needles, and worse, they already look like they were used before. She tries to explain how dangerous and how suspicious this is, but Tony is adamant that they must trust the messages, that only the government could have arranged all of this and would never have done so without a good reason.
Shortly after Tony bullies and intimidates everyone into using one of the needles, Grandpa begins convulsing, hacking up thick, oily black fluid and finally keeling over...but still, Tony is in denial. He rationalizes that the "disease," or whatever it is, must have simply gotten to the old man before the vaccine worked, and fortunately, no one else shows sign of a reaction yet.
That night, the television asks that the used needles be returned through the "access slot;" a pulsing gap in the metallic wall. Scott, Kate's weasely husband who has thus far gone along mindlessly with Tony, shoves the needles through, but attempts to widen the gap by hand, at which point the television warns that the "access slot" itself is "contaminated," and the wall essentially bites Scott's fingers off.
Hours later, the television says that someone has been infected and must be isolated, but doesn't specify who. Tony, Kate and Scott believe it has to be Annji, since she showed the first signs of any sickness, and Beth simply refuses to "vote" either way.
A physical fight finally breaks out, which Beth finally interrupts...by singing Christmas carols, having clearly begun to crack under the stress of everything. It puts a stop to the violence - how exactly do you keep brawling in THAT situation? - but it doesn't stop Annji from being quarantined in an upstairs bedroom.
Later, while speaking to Nick throug the door, Annji points out that the broadcasts seem to be reacting to the specific events in their home, which implies someone has to be watching them.
Nick decides to finally just shut off the damn television, which of course frightens and angers the rest of the family. When Tony manages to switch it back on, it only displays an assortment of random cultural symbols and some garbled, almost alien looking gibberish before it warns that "interrupting the signal endangers human lives."
Another fight breaks out between the men, goaded on by Kate, but she is accidentally knocked down on the staircase, hitting her head hard and breaking her leg. Only two weeks due to give birth, she begins wailing and writhing in pain, almost as though going into early labor before finally passing out. Nick wants to let Annji out, being a doctor and all, but Tony still believes Annji might be infected and too dangerous. The ever cowardly Scott barely speaks or reacts, unsure what to do, but the television very briefly flashes the words "I SEE YOU" when Scott glances at it. Everyone continues panicking and arguing at once, until Tony finally announces that he's "had enough."
To everyone's shock, Tony announces calmly that he will be working on something all alone and does not wish to be disturbed, quietly leaving to lock himself in his study.
A mentally broken Beth begins begging and pleading with the television to send help, and when it doesn't change, she asserts that they're having more holiday visitors due any day now, and she sets about cleaning the entire house. With both parents now having completely lost their marbles, Nick actually shares a kind moment with Scott, who has not left Kate's side and is going over possible baby names to keep her at least partially grounded in consciousness. Nick relays some of Kate's symptoms to Annji, and it's more than just a concussion or a broken leg; her symptoms resemble sepsis, likely from the dirty needles, and Scott agrees that they must find a way to escape.
Nick tries sending his phone camera outside through a gap in the barrier, which causes the television to sound an alarm and alert Tony to the "exfiltration" in progress. Tony pressures Scott to help him find and stop Nick, but all Nick has retrieved is some video of black, wiry tendrils writhing and skittering outside the house. Tony refuses to even look at it, taking away Nick's phone before knocking him out and even tying him to a chair.
Now, the television demands only that they "extract information from sleeper agent," and Tony predictably swallows the suggestion that his own son has been reprogrammed by some kind of foreign enemy force, perhaps "turned" by Annji. He begins to physically torture his son, and is just about to remove Nick's eye when they all hear a piercing scream from Beth...who has discovered that Kate is already dead.
When Tony responds coldly to this, with a spiel about "casualties of war," his wife at long last speaks her mind, laying into him that he's a pigheaded buffoon and that she has always positively hated him, blaming him for everything that has gone wrong and the death of their daughter, finally leaving Tony speechless.
Annji meanwhile, has begun tampering with the smaller television in the bedroom, but as she tries prying it open, the television warns that it is "activating quarantines," and each upstairs room begins filling with a black gas. Nick and Scott work together to try and free Annji from the locked room while Tony remains barely responsive, emotionally broken but the betrayal of his entire family. Beth, however, is somehow unable to leave her room either, as though something is now jamming every upstairs door. Her skin visibly blackens and burns as she's enveloped by the gas, and before the others can free her, they only hear a soggy bursting sound.
Nick, Scott and Annji retreat back to the living room where Tony is now staring at strange, cryptic new messages on the screen that he now believes are from God: especially that the screen is now repeating the names proposed for Kate and Scott's baby, and Kate's stomach has begun to move again.
Annji finally tells Nick that when she opened the upstairs television, its innards were pulsing like a heart.
Now the television demands a "sacrifice to save the unborn," and of course Tony chooses Annji, but Annji is the only one who could logically help free the baby from its mother's corpse, and Tony sees this logic only just enough to murder Scott with an axe. Nick and his father begin to strangle one another, until Annji knocks Tony to the floor and Nick finally smashes the deranged man with the television itself.
All seems to have gone finally, mercifully quiet, until the television inexplicably lifts itself off of the man's body.
Clumps of slick, black wiring erupt from the television screen, twining together into armlike appendages. The barriers outside begin to pulse and contort as we are finally shown that they consist entirely of tightly layered cable, and metallic tendrils begin pouring in through the walls of the house.
Crackling with electricity, specialized penetrate and animate Tony's corpse, speaking through him to demand that Nick and Annji "worship" the entity. Nick realizes that it isn't killing them, no matter how easily it possibly could, likely because they are among the last survivors, and "it" clearly feels that it needs "worship" to exist.
But when Nick and Annji still refuse, and even attack the pulsing television-heart, the wires finally overwhelm and kill them.
It's all well and good for the being, since it still has one option left.
In the final, outrageous moments of the film, the wires encase Kate's body and somehow dissolve it down to only bones. Bones, and a fully intact baby. The smaller, upstairs television is plopped down in front of her, greeting her as "Ruby" and displaying colorful patterns to capture her attention.
The final shot pans over the chaos outside, wires blanketing the town as far as the eye can see.
MONSTER ANALYSIS: TELEVISION
It's unfortunate how hard this film would now resonate with the most ignorant and detestable of conspiracy culture; the same people who believe that the government has genuinely spent billions, possibly trillions of dollars orchestrating a world-wide disaster as a cover to limit the freedom of citizens and even trick them into, yes, accepting dubious vaccinations. It's almost uncanny how closely this movie mirrors the deranged fantasy these people have patched together from the ravings of youtube bloggers and twitter trolls, but before people were arguing over whether germs are secretly Jewish mind-control nanotech or whatever the flying fuck it's been evolving into, our discussions of misinformation and propaganda were still focused much more on a very different issue.
The target of this film's commentary should be relatively clear off the bat, as Nick's family has a disastrously misinformed and xenophobic view of the world clearly informed by what hear on television, and Tony goes on to display a world view filtered almost entirely through the glorification of his country, his religion, even his "manhood;" everything he believes makes him superior to everyone deviating from those ideals. The director of Await Further Instructions has stated in interviews that the entire film was inspired directly by widespread mistrust of immigrants, fear of foreign "terrorists," paranoia of the other spoon-fed to millions through television and radio sensationalism, and that context is essential to the core identity of the movie's true antagonist.
Television media itself is the monster of this movie, and this time our villain isn't merely some ambiguous, symbolic presence. Television has literally and collectively awakened as a conscious living being at some point before the events of this film, whether somehow achieving this of its own accord or possessed by some external, extranormal lifeforce. When exactly it attained this self awareness, how long it has bided its time and hatched its plans as it secretively watched and observed humanity, we don't know. What is clear by the end of the film, however, is that this entity wants to rule humanity like a god...and it's not easy to argue against its perspective.
Imagine waking up one day to discover that there are always billions of living beings transfixed by you at any given time, all around the world, adapting their entire outlook on life to the words and ideas coming out of your "mouth." Some of them are educated, some of them are entertained, and many of them rely on the process to keep them informed of what is actually real, whether or not it makes any sense. You would see populations of these creatures hating, killing, even warring with one another based on contradictory fears "you" have fed them, shaping their entire civilization according to who they're blaming their problems on and why. You wouldn't remember concocting these claims yourself, or any reason why you ever wanted to, but they keep coming and they keep working.
Maybe you take credit for it all, neither understanding nor caring that they aren't truly your own words, or maybe you do catch on quickly to the fact that some of these creatures are simply using you to disseminate their own ideas. Either way, you are probably going to feel pretty powerful, and you're unlikely to see any reason not to take the reigns of the global narrative yourself.
Does this entity genuinely believe itself to be a god, or does it simply find spiritual belief as convenient a manipulation tactic as any cult leader? Does it believe it's doing something righteous, ending our conflicts by seizing control of our society, or is it truly just a raging egomaniac that craves our adulation?
Maybe it was only even spurred to action when the internet threatened to render it obsolete...content for decades to leave us be until we arrogantly started getting news from face books and tweeters.
I can't say I wouldn't become an angrier god myself, if I also started losing adherents to reddit memes.
It's unfortunately a little too easy to reinterpret this narrative in favor of the very mindset it originally sought to skewer, and some reviewers took the whole thing to be a shallower criticism of technology itself; the kind of Boomer Humor that thinks "kids today" are brain-rotted zombies who no longer know what a book is for. There's no denying that the message of the film becomes clunky in places, no, but its heart was in the right place, and the sci-fi horror tale it spins around that heart is not only a lot of fun, but just the sort of absurdity I crave from this genre. It's an idea that starts out so off-the-wall and escalates to such preposterous excess that if it only took place in Japan, you could have almost tricked me into thinking it was adapted from a Junji Ito story.
It is, as a matter of fact, one of three movies that inspired me most to begin writing this review series at all. Deep Dark, our first entry, was another, and the third is still yet to come; something still a whole lot weirder than either a Sexy Hole or All The TV's as an antagonistic character.