Meet Jo (Johnson), Max (Gordon), Dave (Jibson) and Gwen (Rhys), four ordinary people with a thing for obsessive social networking. However, it turns out that spending all your time online isn’t such a bad idea, as the foursome are setting off on an all-expenses luxury trip to New York, courtesy of All2gether.com. But, unlike those of us in the audience with a nose for trouble, nobody finds anything amiss with the fact that their private jet is entirely unstaffed. Nor do they notice the glowing red eye of a camera, which sits in the centre of the heavily locked cockpit door. Hey, there’s champagne! Why worry? And they can while away the tension-fuelled hours with an in-flight competition. Everybody loves competitions, right? Especially when they’re governed by an all-seeing, all-knowing animated alligator (Richards).
It’s a personality quiz, based on their profiles at All2gether.com but these questions go beyond the realms of personal, revealing the staunch fact that not everybody is quite as lovely as they have made out to be. Alcoholism, sex addiction, paedophilia and cyber bullying don’t even begin to skim the surface of this little crowd. Can they opt out of the game and save their dignity? Don’t be silly. If they’d read the Terms & Conditions, they’d know that disobeying the Alligator will have horrific consequences for all…
A simple plot with an intriguing premise, right? Obviously, there are some flaws; for starters, the characters are little more than bland stereotypes; the sweet and artistic girl sporting some eccentric knitwear and lacy tights, the laddish brute with a secret soft spot for his fiancée, etc etc. But hey, in this film, it kind of works; this film is set up as a generic warning to all of us who disclose far too much information on the internet. Personality quizzes, shared links, a couple of ‘likes’ and even something as innocuous as a comment on someone’s wall reveal more and more about our personalities than we could ever realize and, obviously, if we were in a horror film, these could be used against us. By an alligator. Apparently.
The writers obviously took a leaf out of M. Night Shyamalan’s book, as the script shows a definite case of adhering to the tired rule “any twist is a good twist”. No. Not when the twists make absolutely no sense at all and fail to adhere to the plot. And just you try not to snigger a little when the feisty hacker uncovers the secret of the plane’s true destination; that’s right, they’re not going to New York at all. They are, as an actual matter of fact, going to one of the most evil places in Europe: Norway. OH NO OH MY – wait, what? Baffling. Just baffling.
However, despite all of this, Panic Button somehow manages to be a wildly engaging tale. It almost feels like an episode of Doctor Who, focusing on four ordinary people in a surreal and almost sci-fi situation, thanks to the dystopian Big Brother effect of the anonymous perpetrator. All we ever have is his voice; a terrifying, crisp and well-educated voice, not unlike that of David Attenborough, which refuses to bow to emotion and maintains the always-unnerving cool and collected manner of a psychotic genius. So we have four people taunted by a 2D alligator, voiced by an Attenborough wannabe – and yet somehow, it works. Tapping into the real time success of 24, as well as the claustrophobic setting of a small private jet, it really allows for the viewer to exist just that little bit closer to the action. The story unfolds quickly, the tension is rife and the overwhelming sense of malice really racks up the fear factor, proving that squillions of pounds spent on CGI are completely unnecessary when trying to produce a decent night at the flicks.
Utterly timely, well-executed and deftly showcased, Panic Button manages, perhaps because of rather than in spite of its eccentricities, to push all the right buttons. Although you’ll probably steer clear of Facebook for a while…