It’s hard to think of a time we weren’t all dealing with a global pandemic, and sometimes even more difficult to look ahead to when it will finally disappear. It’s so pervasive and insidious that it has influenced the media we consume on a daily basis, for better or worse. Safer At Home, from director Will Wernick (No Escape), takes this to a whole new level of depression and despair by giving us a look at a potential future if the virus is not properly contained soon. Like, real soon.
The film begins innocently enough in a setting that we have become increasingly familiar with: a birthday party video chat. Introduced are a group of close friends who, thanks to the current strain of the novel Coronavirus, Covid-22c, are in the midst of a very strict lockdown and haven’t seen each other in-person for a long time. Sharing a screen with birthday boy Evan (Dan J. Johnson) is his girlfriend Jen (Jocelyn Hudon) and across the internet are Harper (Alisa Allapach), Ben & Liam (Adwin Brown and Daniel Robaire), as well as Oliver & Mia (Michael Kupisk and Emma Lahana).
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“Genre films can be a snapshot into the cultural climate of a time and Safer At Home is particularly unsettling because we are living in it right now. “
What starts to unfold does so in layers that works really well. You meet this group and although you get the impression that they are very close you also start to see the underlying tension. More subtle than anything else but there is a dynamic there. After throwing in some booze and ecstasy, the fun spikes but quickly spins out of control as inhibitions are thrown to the wind and frustrations rise to the surface. It appears that quarantining, even with those closest to you, has put a strain on everyone’s relationship. Oliver’s new girlfriend Mia is the new addition to the group but isn’t necessarily jiving with everyone. Even Jen starts to show that she’s a little fed up with Evan and his lack of effort since they’ve been holed up together. The film really takes its real dark turn, however, after an “accident” puts Evan in serious trouble, with everyone else caught as not only helpless bystanders but as witnesses.
Where most would just call the authorities in this instance, the viewer begins to learn more of just what is happening outside. Touched on in the prologue, Covid-19 has mutated into a deadlier strain and deaths have spiked globally. Lockdowns have been amplified with very strict curfews put in place and much harsher punishments are in full effect. Detention centers have been created to deal with law-breakers and even though none are seen, the oppressive nature of this world seeps in. Eventually, this leads the group outdoors but it’s a nightmare out there. The decision proves to be unwise (as the title of the film suggests). Police search parties lurk around every corner as well as security checkpoints and militarized blockades. Helicopters scour the area and this once busy city seems like something of a post-apocalyptic scenario with barren highways and people camped out on streets.
To its credit, the film is very uncomfortable to watch. The multiple levels of anxiety-inducing events feel more impactful because they feel incredibly real. People are social creatures and we’ve learned what can happen when you’re isolated. Tensions can run high and people start to lose control. It’s hard not to feel for all those involved in this film even at just this brief look into their lives. The thought-provoking aspect of the film is getting the audience to really think about what they would do in this type of situation. We all yell at the screen when we are comfortable but thankfully, or hopefully, have never been put to the test like that.
As the film reaches its halfway point it starts to become a bit obvious at where the “twist” will reveal itself. Fans of this subgenre will probably catch on well before the actual payoff but surprisingly that does nothing to take away from the tension of getting there. In fact, it’s still suspenseful despite that and there’s enough along the way to distract from it until the very end. The social commentary in the film is done in a way that drives the point home without beating you over the head and is very powerful. It touches on so many topics that are seen in the news daily albeit turned up to 11.
“Fans of this subgenre will probably catch on well before the actual payoff but surprisingly that does nothing to take away from the tension of getting there.”
Although definitely not a traditional horror movie (in the sense that there are no slashers, no ghosts, and no demonic possession) it’s all the more terrifying and suspenseful for it. Genre films can be a snapshot into the cultural climate of a time and Safer At Home is particularly unsettling because we are living in it right now. Not exactly as it is in this not-too-distant future, thankfully, but it’s not completely out of the question. What makes Safer At Home so effective is its use of our collective fears and apprehensions to paint a picture of a very scary landscape of what could be in our future. It has a realness to it that is hard to forget even after it’s all over. That, right there, is quality story-telling and makes for a terrifyingly exciting roller coaster of a film.
Safer At Home hits VOD and streaming services on February 26th! Will you be watching from the comfort and safety of your own home? Let us know what you thought of the film over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.