Based on a recent British Horror film of the same name, Panic Button is the kind of excursion that taps into every nuance and trope of modern horror cinema. Thankfully this fictitious outing can be just as harrowing – taking the theme of contemporary social media and hammering home our fears and insecurities concerning the medium until the reader feels frantic with it.
As a reviewer I’m always looking for something different: uncharted waters to critique – a novel based on a semi-successful film I have yet to view seemed to fit that bill. After the reading experience I could go back to the tales genesis on screen and see how well the author lifted its contents ... much like an excavator will slowly brush away the dirt to reveal a fossil.
Our story is simple but compelling: four young people win the trip of a lifetime to New York, courtesy of the world famous social networking site All2gethr.com. On board their private jet, they are invited to take part in some in-flight entertainment – a new online gaming experience. But this is a unique game. Trapped at 30,000 feet they are forced to play for their lives and the lives of their loved ones by a mysterious captor who bears the social network insignia – and they are about to learn that having an online profile exposed to the whole world can have deadly consequences...
Here we go back to my first paragraph: this is definitely reminiscent of many recent horror outings. We have the SAW franchise; we also have films like CUBE and the tacit terrors produced by fare such as FINAL DESTINATION, RED EYE, and the original TWILIGHT ZONE. But what we also have on offer is the potential for a beautiful character study ... one that’s mined to such great effect in films like THE HOLE (2001) and HARD CANDY. Most of all the appealing thing here is the theme itself: at its beating heart PANIC BUTTON seems to be a book about a subject barely touched in the annals of cinema ... social networking.
The team is heralded. There’s Jo Scott the recovering alcoholic. She’s left her daughter at home in the care of her mother to experience this chance at freedom. Max Nichols - a man as mysterious as his online persona would suggest. Gwen has the ‘hippy chick’ aura but more than a few of her own demons. And rounding out the small cabal is Dave ... a sly and obnoxious joker that the others will have to watch like a dormant snake. Proceedings take hold and we are then lifted into the air with the four toasting their lucky success. But for the next few hours their only companion will be the grinning alligator facade of the All2gethr mascot ... and it isn’t long before he lets the games begin: a harrowing series of brutal psychological questionaries that will pit each contestant against each other in a series of dares where the losing price is death. Not only for them but for those on the ground who mourn their departure.
This is not exactly a ground breaking book ... but Frazer Lee does an excellent job pulling out all the stops when they are needed. The games induced by Alligator are subtle yet equally horrific: I daresay you’ll want to keep reading with morbid fascination as each of our contestants lives are exposed with fascinating clarity. You’ll also see yourselves in these people: seemingly ordinary individuals but each with a plethora of secrets and demons just waiting to be brought bubbling to the surface. The real horror, when it arrives, more than competes with anything the original creators of SAW could dream up. And underlying it all, of course, are the social and ethical questions we as a society have come to ask ourselves on a daily basis: just what WILL be the price of social networking? We now live in an age that would have been unthinkable merely decades ago. There are always dues ... and the price of this one – when it arrives – could be almost too much to bear.
Now, to watch the film.