Grimmfest 2018: Await Further Instructions

by Rachel Bellwoar

After avoiding your family baggage for years, you could probably do better than Christmas to try and salvage old ties. A powder keg of a holiday, where you’re facing all the family at once and they’re testy about the festivities, when Nick (Sam Gittins) pulls up to his parents’ house with his girlfriend, Annji (Neerja Naik), he’s breaking three years of radio silence. Having held out for so long, it’s likely Nick knows this is a bad idea, but after one final attempt to convince Annji they should go home, they knock on the front door. Not an evening goes by before they regret the decision.

Each member of Nick’s family, in director, Johnny Kevorkian’s, and writer, Gavin WilliamsAwait Further Instructions, make an impression from the moment they’re introduced onscreen – the surprisingly desperate grab of Nick’s mom’s voice (Abigail Cruttenden) when she answers the front door; the rigidness of Nick’s dad (Grant Masters) when the first thing you see are his shoes descending the stairs, before leaning down to pick at some invisible speck on the floor.
David Bradley is an absolute terror as Gramps. Barely moving from his chair in front of the TV, it’s another incredible performance from an actor who deals almost exclusively in the incredible. From the glee he exhibits, stirring up trouble, to the bewilderment, whenever he has to respond to put-on displays of affection, he’s so convincingly monstrous it’s impossible not to feel astonished when he recoils from human contact or unleashes another on-point sneer (or in Annji’s case a grunt that could never be mistaken for a greeting).
Forced to sit through his family’s racist remarks (Gramps is a given, but Nick’s pregnant sister, Kate (Holly Weston), gives him a run for his money), Gittins, as Nick, goes through his own array of facial expressions, but the effect is more comical, as he switches between expletive-filled outbursts to, not so much ‘I told you so,’ but definitely floundering mouth contortions and shoulder slumps. His worst fears for the night are coming true and the next morning he and Annji decide to sneak out before anyone wakes up.

This is when the film divulges its sci-fi roots. Nick opens the door and there’s metal sealing the entranceway (not the most breathtaking of materials but a mail slot goes a long way towards adding menace). A quick inspection of the windows shows the metal’s blocking them, too, and Annji and Nick aren’t the only ones not leaving the house anytime soon. Trapped inside, with electricity but no wifi or phone service, the TV becomes their only source for news from the outside world. The first alert message: “Stay indoors and await further instructions.”
With relations already tense and growing more estranged by the second, disagreements arise over whether to trust the TV and obey its orders. This devolves into posturing over parental authority, and it’s amazing what people will convince themselves is true, when they don’t want to admit they might not know what’s going on.
The choice to center the film around a TV, instead of a computer (which usually gets the blame for Big Brother scenarios like this) is kind of strange, and towards the end of the movie some of the effects feel like they’re for the benefit of viewers and a lot of effort for whoever or whatever’s doing this to their home, but Await Further Instructions knows when to bring things back around to the holidays and is particularly successful as a Christmas horror film.
Some of the decisions made by Nick and his family are exasperating (and their confinement should feel more claustrophobic than it does) but that doesn’t mean their inaccurate. If you don’t mind watching a family spiral out over the holidays, Await Further Instructions was the opening night film at Grimmfest and will be arriving in theaters this December in the UK from Trinity Filmed Entertainment.

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