SAFER AT HOME (2021)
Directed by Will Wernick.
Written by Will Wernick, Lia Bozonelis, John Ierardi.
Starring Alisa Allapach, Adwin Brown, Katie L. Hall, Jocelyn Hudon, Dan J. Johnson, Michael Kupisk, Emma Lahana, Brandon Morales, Daniel Robaire
In the near future, COVID-19 has evolved and seemed to have changed the world forever with a staggering amount of dead, forced curfews, and mandated camps for those who break quarantine laws. A group of friends get together to celebrate one of their birthdays over a Zoom call and one of them has sent a tablet of acid to everyone in the group for them to have a virtual party, but as the tabs kick in and emotions rise, an accidental fall that seems to have resulted in death, causes all of them to panic and one of them to go on the run. All of this is captured in real time over a Zoom call.
One of my favorite films from last year was HOST, which, like SAFER AT HOME, occurs over a single Zoom meeting. HOST was pretty innovative and first out of the gate to capture the zeitgeist that everyone was dealing with, staging a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY-style story of a demon unleashed and haunting those on the call. It was a breezy film, clocking in at just about an hour that is able to ride the concept all the way through without becoming ridiculous. It took the current lockdown situation we were all in and made it fun, interesting, creative, yet took in a new and scary direction. SAFER AT HOME most likely wouldn’t exist if not for HOST’s popularity. But unlike HOST, SAFER AT HOME makes some crucial mistakes that make it a far inferior film.
At this point, most people are pretty sick of the lockdown and itching to get out. It’s not about debating about if it’s time to reopen things or not, it’s about that cramped-up feeling we all are going through right now. Because of this, a film putting the viewer into a world where the lockdown is endless without any kind of veil of sci fi or supernatural is not going to sit well with a lot of viewers. I know I had an acidic taste in my mouth thinking of the possibility that the lockdown would go on for another two years with increasing restrictions and the like. So on premise alone, this isn’t one that is going to intrigue a lot of people. Yes, technically this is near future sci fi we are talking about, but the premise is so close to the real world that I see it being a turn off rather than something that would attract someone to this movie. It was new and fresh in our heads when HOST was dropped six months ago, now it feels like a too-close-to-home concept that is more off putting than anything. At the same time, HOST was smart enough to start out in the real world and then venture into the supernatural, putting the Zoom participants through a demonic haunting. SAFER AT HOME doubles down on the real world heft by making this as real as possible. This isn’t a pandemic story with a demon or ghost or alien, it’s just a pandemic story from the world outside our window. Again, because it is almost too real, it just doesn’t make for an interesting a story when you can get practically same hysteria watching the nightly news.
Pretty much all of the actors are solid in SAFER AT HOME. While the film makes sure to check all of the cultural boxes with multiple races, sexual preferences, and relationship statuses, which I don’t object too, but it still seems funny that this diverse group of people would get together, let alone be lifelong friends. Still, everyone plays the part well and each has their personal issues that show up later to push the plot along, but they are incorporated well. While the accident is sudden and happens early in the film, it is all played pretty realistically as everyone is tripping on Molly and emotions are at its peak, so the rash actions each member of the Zoom group display are believable.
The problem is that it is suggested early on that the government is watching these Zoom calls and this remains a consistent paranoia throughout, but nothing is ever made of this plot point. It also stretches the believability that despite characters leaving their homes, driving their cars, and running down the street, their phone cameras are on and for the most part, broadcasting clearly for the entire time. There’s a scene where a police officer is inching close to one of the callers, but there is clearly a flashlight on the face of the Zoomer taking the footage, yet the cop fails to see him. And don’t get me started about the inane notion this film has of using a musical score in a film that takes place entirely on Zoom. When will these found footage films realize that placing a score to “intensify” the scene breaks the rules of everything happening in real time? It’s just inane film making and shows an utter lack of confidence that the found footage format of the shaky cam, the acting, and the situation itself isn’t enough to evoke feelings of anxiety and tension.
I wanted to like SAFER AT HOME. It definitely had some interesting ideas and decent performances. But a lot of it has to do with the time it was released and the lack of thought put into making the film less of a real world horror (which we are all pretty fed up with) and more of an entertaining story.