Contain. Corrupt. Control
We are almost one week into our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror feature. Behind door 6 is a British science fiction horror called Await Further Instructions. Set over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Await Further Instructions follows a family spending Christmas together. It becomes clear that this is the first time they have all been in the same place in years. Frayed relationships are already being tested. Only for things to go even more horribly wrong when an old CRT TV begins handing out instructions to the family.
This movie is a little on the strange side. Featuring a science fiction heavy theme. There is almost a Lovecraftian feel to it. Naturally it perfectly qualifies for our Awful Advent feature. Everything here takes place over the course of Christmas itself. We have Christmas trees, turkey, arguing. What could be more Christmassy than that? Let’s take a look. As with all our movies, I will give a quick breakdown. You can skip that if you like.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
It’s Christmas Eve in England. Couple Nick, played by Sam Gittins, and Annji, played by Neerja Naik, are heading to Nick’s family home. It has apparently been many years since Nick has returned home. Annji is anxious to meet Nick’s family but he has some trepidation about the visit. Arriving at the door, Nick’s mum Beth, played by Abigail Cruttenden, is delighted to see them. His dad Tony, played by Grant Masters, however, is angry that he has not been in touch for three years. The tension eventually dissipates, however and the family begin to relax.
Nick’s sister Kate, played by Holly Weston, arrives with her boyfriend in tow. Kate is heavily pregnant and due within weeks. Kate makes an unfortunate racist remark which Nick doesn’t take kindly to. Annji is quick to forgive, however, and the family get on with their Christmas eve. Watching TV, grandad calls the family in. Their has been a terrorist attack in the local shopping mall. It’s now the Grandad’s turn to make racist comments. Offended, Annji protests which leads Kate to shouting at her.
Nick and Annji head upstairs with a plan to leave in the morning. Rising early on Christmas Day, the pair sneak down the stairs. Opening the front door, they notice a black substance covering it. They turn around to see Beth standing behind them. Pointing out the metallic coating. The family check the windows to see something similar cover them too. Tony comes downstairs wondering what the commotion is. Turning on the TV to check for a news broadcast. The family spot a message. Await Further Instructions. Tony takes command and the family do exactly this. They will follow whatever the TV tells them to do.
Directed by the late Johnny Kevorkian. This is a movie that seems somewhat more apt since the recent pandemic. Much of the world was heavily affected and this is something many can relate to. A family are locked inside of their house over Christmas. Some type of metal like structure covers every exit of the house. What seems to be ventilation pipes are fitted into every room. Phone lines are dead and the internet is completely down. The only line of communication the family have with the outside world is their CRT TV. The TV displays a simple, static message “Await Further Instructions”.
Challenged to take control of the situation by his elderly father. Tony insists the family sit and await further guidance from the TV. This must be a terrorist attack. Or, perhaps, there is a virus in the air and the family has been quarantined for their own safety. To Tony, it makes perfect sense. In what is maybe the most farcical aspect of this movie, he has full faith in the British government. As the hours pass by, the television begins to give them instructions. The only thing is, they seem to be more and more outlandish. Each time the family follows the instructions. The next set are worse than the previous. It is as if the TV is reacting to what the family does.
It goes without saying that this is a fascinating concept. Most of us have actually been through something very similar. Masses of people spent Christmas 2020 inside their houses. We waited for the all clear to see friends and family again. The TV and the internet were people’s main line of communication. Indeed those were the only real avenues to stay informed. Orders were broadcast from the government. Daily press conferences became the norm. TV and internet became our only window into the outside world.
The family here, however, are given no such warning. They simply wake one morning completely locked in. The TV, suddenly, becomes both an antagonist and the family’s only lifeline. It instructs them on how to deal with the situation. Thoroughly believing this must be down to a matter of security or safety. Tony listens to the TV and follows its requests to the letter. Its demands, however, grow increasingly morbid. The dynamic between the different members of the family leads to varying reactions. Tony continues to push for control and the situation becomes worse and worse.
This movie feels, at least, a little bit timely all of a sudden. Naturally this is purely coincidental as the movie was made in 2018. It’s nice to at least be able to relate to the situation of the family, however. Just as many people experienced in 2020. The family are placed in an environment that leads to tremendous interpersonal strain. Relationships are tested and personalities clash. Christmas can be bad enough without being locked in a house with no escape. With all of that being said. The film does a nice job building a heavy atmosphere of tension.
Christmas is a tense time of year for many people. Large families are expected to gather after having not seen each other all year. Conflicting personalities come together over a turkey dinner. Alcohol is often involved. Family members that don’t get along are expected to suddenly break bread. It is a veritable melting pot of tension. I have a very small family due to family members passing away and whatnot. I have spent every Christmas of the last 13 alone with my fiancée, thankfully. Introverts and people who enjoy their own company can all relate. What is worse than being forced to spend Christmas with the family.
Await Further Instructions doubles down on that. Nick is returning home for the first time in three years. Accompanying him is his new girlfriend Annji. Nick hasn’t been in contact with his family for approximately three years. A fact Tony, his dad, points out to him immediately. Despite this, his mum is just overjoyed to have him back. She is simply looking forward to an old fashioned family Christmas. Grandad sits in his chair opening his mouth only to spew bigoted conjecture and to insult Tony. Nick’s heavily pregnant sister Kate arrives with her boyfriend Scott. We now have a group of heavily contrasting personalities. All placed together in a locked down house, unable to leave. Naturally, the frayed relationships are the perfect breeding ground for the conflict that follows.
Await Further Instructions plays on this smorgasbord of characters. Building the tension from the start. It is very clear this family does not get along. Abuse appears to have trickled down through the patriarchal side. Tony has an, obviously, complicated relationship with his racist, ex military police, father. This has lead to Nick and his dad developing underlying issues. Annji, due to her race, is not warmly welcomed by some members of the family. Her logical and considered arguments against the demands of the TV are rebuffed. Nick and Annji are left to fight there own corner as Tony takes control.
Enlisting the help of Scott as his second in command. It quickly becomes a fight between logic and obedience. It is fair to say that the family tension actually plays the biggest role in building atmosphere. For most of the movie, the demands of the TV take second place. Tony’s controlling personality, lack of free thinking and tendency towards compliance dominate. Scott falls in line and Kate plays the antagonist. It does a nice job of scene building a heavy, oppressive atmosphere.
Racial tensions, a family member that has been absent for three years, a bigoted old man and his beta son. It’s fair to say that this is a family horror more than anything else. As the demands of the TV escalate, the family completely breaks down. Arguments, violence, and even torture are the result. Truly awful stuff. Unfortunately, Await Further Instructions is bogged down by stereotypes. On top of this, it suffers from a terribly poor script.
The poor writing at play here is evident from almost the start. Gavin Williams has put together a particularly weak script. Dialogue feels unnatural and inorganic. This is especially apparent given the domestic nature of the setting. There is no flow to any of the conversations. These don’t feel like people who actually grew up together. Characters don’t feel as though they have well defined personalities. They switch and change their opinions seemingly at random. Going from rebellion to compliance in a heartbeat and without logical reasons. Added to this. Williams appears to have written a few characters purely to stereotypes. The result is predictable discourse and a lack of surprises.
I really feel as though this movie would have benefited from a little retro scripting. Let the characters interact a bit. Give them the outline of their personality type, sure. But also let the actors attempt to create natural feeling conversations. There is a sanitised, almost hyper rehearsed, feeling to the film. There is also a distinct lack of nuance when it comes to the characters. You can easily guess what will come out of their mouths next. Their entirely stereotyped nature, perhaps, offers a degree of relatability for certain viewers. But it comes at the cost of unpredictability.
Certain scenes really stand out for the poor scripting. For example, when the family realises there are barriers over the windows. Tony declares that this is nonsense and asks if he is the only one with any sense around here. What is this statement supposed to mean? He can see there are barriers on the doors. The family tell him they are on the windows as well. He pushes it, it doesn’t budge. Where does “having sense” factor into this? He can see the barriers, he can feel them. He can tell they don’t move. This is just one example of extremely jarring dialogue. A more reasonable reaction would be for him to declare his intentions to find out what is going on.
This is, unfortunately, a persistent theme. Added to this the poor story writing in general. You are left with characters who never feel as though they react naturally. Certain characters protest to requests in one scene only to comply in the next with barely any convincing. There are massive jumps of logic all over the place. The family resort to drastic actions with almost no reason. You will be left wondering why things have escalated so dramatically. The lack of writing nuance leaves you aching for explanation.
Acting here is very middle of the road. Sam Gittins, as Nick, and Grant Masters, as Tony, stand out. Grant Masters, in particular, does a great job. Tony is the uptight and overly compliant patriarch of the family. He never really slips character. Indeed, Tony feels like the only member with a concrete personality. Master’s give his all to the role and is convincing. Gittins does a nice job of putting across Nick’s scepticism. Unfortunately the writing leads to his character being somewhat inconsistent. This makes a believable performance difficult. You will likely be left questioning some of Nick’s reactions. David Bradley as the racist grandad is fitting. The character doesn’t get much leg work. He is convincing, however, despite the stereotyped nature of the role.
Neerja Naik, as Annji, is inconsistent. She, at times, lacks emotion and can feel very uncomfortable with the line delivery. Again, I put this, at least a little, down to the poor writing. Her character is all over the place and Naik had little structure to work with. Holly Weston is particularly bad. Playing the role in an almost soap opera manner. She feels like the weakest of the bunch. I actually enjoyed Weston in Welsh set horror Splintered. I don’t think she is a bad actor. Here, I think she just found it too easy to default to her Hollyoaks acting past.
Kris Saddler, as Scott, is fine. He gets a few laughs here and there for his dumb “gym bro” persona. I felt as though Abigail Cruttenden, as mum Beth, hugely overacts. I enjoyed her finally standing up to Tony. Generally speaking, however. She plays the character in an almost theatrical, unrealistic and over the top, manner.
It becomes very clear, almost from the second that things kick off, that there is a hidden meaning here. A supposed terrorist attack has taken place on Christmas eve. The family listens intently to the news. Without any real information being disclosed, they spout racist rhetoric. The next day, the television starts demanding that the family follow its orders. Again, without having any information, the family follow the orders religiously. Indeed, it is made apparent to the viewer that Tony himself believes in a higher being. A greater purpose in life if you will. A cross hangs above the TV in an obvious metaphorical hint to the person watching.
Television and media are controlling people’s lives. People believe what they see on the television unequivocally. Media robs people of independent thought and we are at the point of accepting that. The news turns people into drones. It becomes almost a religion to people. They worship it unquestioningly and, in turn, it demands to be worshiped. It’s all very obvious stuff and Await Further Instructions beats you around the head with it. The ending of the movie only further reinforces that. Pointing out the generational nature of media consumption. How it is passed down from parent to child. It’s not subtle and the medium of horror movies seems like a strange place to deliver this message. I suppose it is fun to point the finger at the viewer a little, though.
The ending of Await Further Instructions is quite unusual. It takes a turn from being something of a domestic drama into a full on horror movie. Bathing everything in a green hue. This part of the movie looks completely different. The special effects team went to work creating something fairly unique. The result is a rather stylish ending that is somewhat unexpected given the nature of the film. In fact, it is the only part of the movie that could be considered Science Fiction. It still feels more fantasy than anything, however.
It is immediately clear that this ending will divide viewers. Some people are going to seriously dislike the tonal shift. Others are going to ask questions about why the events happened. I can imagine there are plenty of horror fans that will find it horribly unsatisfying. It doesn’t exactly answer anything in a particularly satisfying way. People who, perhaps, miss the metaphorical nature of the story will be confused. On the other hand, some will love it. The ending acts as something of a full stop on the end of the allegorical tale. A confirmation, if you will. The ending heads in a direction that many movies are afraid to head into, as well. It’s hard not to appreciate a filmmaker taking risks.
Above all else, however. It features some interesting horror imagery. I found it to be reminiscent of something from a Japanese Manga series. I couldn’t help but think of Ghost in the Shell and other similar stories. It is a mix of body horror and science fiction. The ending also manages to create a visual representation of the movie’s message. It is, most definitely, not going to be for everyone. Just like Await Further Instructions itself.
Await Further Instructions is an interesting British science ficiton horror movie. Set over Christmas, it sees a family spending the holidays together for the first time in years. As the tension builds between the incompatible family members. They suddenly find themselves locked in their house by an unusual substance. Given instructions over an old CRT TV. The family are expected to follow increasingly bizarre requests. As time goes on, the characters split off into those who want to comply and those who don't. It's an interesting premise but one that never lives up to its potential.
Poor writing plagues the movie. Characters have very loosely defined personalities and the writing often devolves to portraying boring stereotypes. Acting is mixed with some okay performances and a few underwhelming ones. An ending that will likely divide viewers aims to reinfoce the movie's metaphorical tale of "TV and Media = Bad". Unforunately, despite being stylish and quite unexpected, it can feel unsatisfying and will leave viewers wanting more. All in all, an okay film but could have been so much better.