A cautionary tale of the dark side of social networking is explored in this timely independent British horror/thriller from director/co-writer Chris Chow and producer/co-writer John Shackleton. As the lines between the private and the public are increasingly eroded and more of us increasingly share information online that in the past would have been kept secret or known to only a handful of family and friends Panic Button takes elements from real world cases of online abuse, data theft and privacy issues and blends them into a violent, satirical revenge movie. Bringing to mind James Wan's Saw (2004), Marc Evans' My Little Eye (2002) and to a lesser degree Jonathan Liebesman's The Killing Room (2009) Crow's movie, made for the relatively small figure of £300,000, is an intriguing if flawed exercise in tension, humiliation and uncomfortable, socially reflective attitudes.
Four young Brits, including single mother Jo, played by erstwhile Eastenders star Scarlett Alice Johnson, are whisked away aboard a private jet by social networking site All2gether.com for a prize winning, all expenses paid weekend in New York. With their mobile phones relinquished, and the cockpit locked, the guests are introduced to the mysterious 'Alligator' via inbuilt PC screens, who promises them further prizes for playing the 'in flight entertainment'. As you would imagine the 'entertainment' isn't exactly what the prize winners are expecting as a series of increasingly personal questions and embarrassing revelations causes tensions to rise and the veracity of the trip, and those behind it, to be called into question. Events go from uncomfortable to sinister to outright perilous as the characters are faced with a situation where the potential consequences of failure affect not only themselves but their loved ones and online 'friends' as well.
There's a fine line between catching the zeitgeist and exploiting the times and Panic Button flits between the two, not always successfully, in an entertaining and in parts brutally sadistic fashion. The suspension of disbelief required in many genre movies is definitely needed as one particular plot device should be so blindingly obvious to even the most frazzled of characters that you can't help but question their intelligence. Crow and the cast and crew do a good job in ratcheting up the tension and the climax, though convoluted, is bleak in the extreme. Panic Button makes good use of a tight budget, pulls no punches in it's representation of graphic violence and, though it may be heavy handed, makes some interesting points about anonymity and responsibility.