Panic Button

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

2 May

Maiden flight of the world’s first passenger jet, 1952

On this day in 1952, the de Havilland DH 106 Comet was introduced into service by BOAC airlines. It was the world’s first commercial jet and its clean lines, big square windows, relatively quiet cabin and comfortable interior meant it looked like it was going to be a success. However, things did not start auspiciously for the plane. Several Comets had to abort take-off as they were taxiing down the runway. Over the next year, three in-air catastrophes occurred, with planes falling apart in mid-air. It was discovered that the square windows were at least partly to blame – metal fatigued easier at the corners. The high cabin pressure, speed of the plane and use of new construction materials were undoubtedly contributory factors too. The Comet was taken out of service and redesigned. Once back in service, flights on the Comet were around 50 per cent faster than by old piston-powered airplanes, and the jets could also climb faster. This reduced the journey time on the London to Tokyo route from 86 hours and 35 minutes to 36 hours. In its new form it continued flying, in one form or another, for the next 60 years, though Boeing’s bigger, faster 707, which had learnt from the pioneering Comet’s mistakes, stole much of the Comet’s early glory.

Panic Button (2011, dir: Chris Crow)

Not to be confused with a film of the same name from a couple of years later, or the Jodie Foster Panic Room, Panic Button is a British high-concept thriller set entirely on board a plane. A “bottle movie”, in other words. And it looks cheap, from the off, it must be said. No matter, it’s a slow-burning affair about four tweety/texty modern people who have just met, all of them winners of some competition run by a social networking site. Their prize is a trip in a plane to a mystery destination, where they will receive a gift, again not specified.

Give this film about 20 minutes to warm up – the actors look like they’re feeling their way into their parts, and the “edited on my laptop” looks take a while to adjust to as well. Because once Panic Button gets going, it really gets going. The hint as to what it’s all about comes very early on – social media – with the “winners” of the competition becoming increasingly aware that whoever is running this “competition” knows a lot more about them than they thought. What’s more, that knowledge is used against them as they’re forced to make gruesome, agonising choices between the people who are with them on the plane and their friends on Facebook (though that name is never used, Mr Zuckerberg’s operation seems to be what the film’s quartet of writers has in mind).

It is often said that for a horror story to work properly there needs to be some basic anxiety that it is addressing (Is the babysitter going to murder the kids? Will a man attack me while I’m in the shower?). Panic Button is ingenious because it’s about some anxiety that perhaps we should have, but probably don’t. How much is too much sharing of personal knowledge on the internet? Are we overdoing it? Could someone really do something very nasty with it? And I don’t mean hack into your bank account. If Panic Button ultimately loses its cool in its final reveal, offering us an explanation for everything which is pretty much unnecessary, it’s been a tight and pleasurably nasty film until then.

Why Watch?

  • A very simple and effective thriller
  • Scarlett Alice Johnson – of EastEnders fame – in the cast
  • An attractive working through of a “trolley problem” exercise in ethics
  • Mark Rutherford’s moody soundtrack

Panic Button – at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2014

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