Panic Button is based on a completely ridiculous and outlandish premise, but the cast owns it and takes it so seriously you cannot help but be intrigued and the produce your boarding pass for the ride. [Listen to our discussion of the movie in the context of social media here]
Four users of a social media site, All2gether.com arrive at a UK departure terminal, bags packed and ready to collect on their contest winnings: a spare no expense trip to New York City.
They’re given expensive champagne and a limo ride out onto the tarmac and hop aboard a luxury jet (“you can watch TV when you’re in the loo!”).
Soon, things aren’t as they seem (the noticeable absent of flight attendants for starters, though technically by law none are required for planes that seat under 19 passengers).
Contest winners Gwen, Jo, Max and Dave are soon given interactive video quizzes based on their social networking profiles. So far so good as the games are lots of fun.
But then things take a turn to the dark side when jokester Dave is told he’s a “cheat in life” and the talking alligator administering the quiz, also reveals Dave’s unseemly internet search habits, which includes an interest in borderline-aged girls, much to the disgust of the other passengers. Soon though, their dark foibles are revealed. Single mom Jo is a drunk, underestimating when asked, how much hooch she consumes on a weekly basis while Max was once treated for genital warts as a teen.
The interactive quizzes soon take on a very sinister tone, with threats and abuse. When the passengers object and violate flight rules, they’re shown videos in which one of their network friends is killed (how is this all live-streamed? Is there a network of maniacs perched outside the homes of these land-bound friends, all home and ready to be picked off?). Panic Button answers those questions later and then essentially turns into the infamous Milgram Experiment.
In that 1960s psychological study, Yale researchers measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure, who instructed them to perform actions that went against their conscience. That is largely reproduced here as the contest winners find out there’s lots more at stake, with the flight diverted to Norway and impulses for self-preservation kicking in.
As a cautionary tale about disclosing too much of one’s identity online, it’s a bit ham-fisted but the thrills are there and the performances first class.
*** (out 5)
LISTEN TO OUR DISCUSSION OF PANIC ROOM IN OUR PODCAST EPISODE, SOCIAL MEDIA AND HORROR.