FrightFest 2011: ‘Panic Button’ review


UK director Chris Crow follows up his debut feature Devil’s Bridge (2010) with Panic Button (2011), which screened at this year’s Film4 FrightFest. When four strangers meet for the first time at an airport, they all seem very familiar with each other. Having each won a free trip to New York through their membership to the Facebook-inspired ‘’, revelations begin to emerge about the details they’ve garnered from the profiles of their fellow competition winners.

Soon after boarding the opulent private jet that will transport them to their destination the on board entertainment begins in the shape of a quiz based on the group’s online habits. The initial alcohol fuelled atmosphere of unbridled excitement soon starts to turn sour as what seems like a little bit of fun to while away the hours soon evolves into something much more sinister.

This quiz is hosted by a CGI crocodile whose bite is certainly more deadly than his bark and who appears to be worryingly over familiar with the online footprint of each passenger, including every site they’ve visited, video they’ve watch and most importantly everyone they’ve made friends with and spoken to. The questions become increasingly more personal, before a series of horrifying tasks commence with more than just luxury prizes at stake.

This clever thriller relies heavily on its simple yet claustrophobic setting to keep the tension levels high. The unique surrounding helps separate Panic Button from the numerous similarly themed horrors that often rely solely on gore and violence to build an atmosphere of impending doom. With almost all of the film’s action taking place within this tiny jet cabin, the audience is never apart from this minuscule cast, feeling as trapped and isolated as they do, thrust unwillingly into this deeply revealing game of kiss and tell and like the cast kept guessing as what kind of malevolent psychopath is behind this elaborate game.

Sadly though this cautionary tale about how much we reveal about ourselves behind the relative safety of our computer screens has some serious plot holes which, despite a plethora of genuinely riveting set pieces, prevent the film’s message from effectively resonating with the audience, resulting in the movie failing to become anything more than a mere piece of throwaway entertainment.

Whilst Panic Button has some inexcusable flaws, when you take the considerably paltry £300,000 budget into account, it appears an impressive enough piece of entertainment which despite some major narrative inconsistencies, manages to hold your attention. The final act raises the dramatic bar just enough to save this avian torture porn from crashing into a sea of mediocrity and if you’re prepared to suspend your disbelief you’ll certainly find some enjoyment in Panic Button’s generic attempt to express these genuinely concerning issues – even if you take little away from its cautionary tale.

Patrick Gamble