Tuesday 4 May 2021

Safer at Home (USA 2021: Dir Will Wernick)

Will Wernick's movies have a habit of placing entitled and often rather obnoxious young people in confined spaces and letting them figure it all out (see 2017's Escape Room and last year's No Escape). 

In his latest feature, set in the US a couple of years in the future, the country has failed to contain the Coronavirus; the latest, and most deadly strain (Covid 22C), has resulted in yet another forced lockdown amid heightening social disorder and nightly curfews; disobedience is punishable by incarceration - or worse. 

Not that you'd know about this from the group of young people gathered for one of their regular video chats  There's newly pregnant Jen (Jocelyn Hudon) who hasn't yet told her boyfriend Evan (Dan J. Johnson) the good news, although she does leak it to her bessy mate, nurse Harper (Alisa Allapach). Also on the call are gay couple Ben (Adwin Brown) and Liam (Daniel Robaire), and Evan's best friend Oliver (Michael Kupisk) and his new girlfriend Mia (Emma Lahana), who proves unpopular with the rest.

Missing their regular Las Vegas holiday together, Oliver has sent them all an envelope in the post to recreate the party vibe, containing, among other things, tabs of MDMA all the way from Japan (something we think may feature heavily in the plot but is pretty much forgotten after it happens). As the drugs start to kick in, Oliver and Mia start getting it on, Pictionary is played, there's a dance off and a game of 'never have I ever' which aims to break the ice but instead fuels tensions between Jen and Evan, resulting in harrowing consequences when the pair fight and Jen falls and splits her head open.

The incident triggers a series of quandries around what Evan should do next, as the rest of the group look on and offer solutions; if this is meant to have any wider moral or social context around choice and responsibility, actually it sounds more like the households at home commentating on a vaguely tense TV programme during an episode of Gogglebox.

The other problem with Safer at Home is the attempt to widen the action in the second half, still using the camera phone format but taking said cameras on the move; something which recalls the dodgy cinematic logic of a lot of found footage flicks. The budget doesn't allow for the scale of police enforcement suggested in the script, so the movie feels increasingly cheap and limited in scope as it progresses, and then blows it all with a silly ending which might mean more if you cared about any of the characters in the first place.

Wernick's political points scoring - the failure of the Tr*mp administration to control the virus spread, the increasing lawlessness of the police and heightening of surveillance - is diluted by the whining first world problems of the people in the story. They act stupidly, hedonistically and selfishly, and we're supposed to feel something for this lot? A very dumb film with nothing to say, however much Wernick might think he's being smart. 

Signature Entertainment releases Safer At Home on Digital Platforms from 3rd May

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