There's no doubt that television has a substantial grip on the collective consciousness, whether for entertainment or the doom and gloom of the news cycle preying on people's anxieties. What Johnny Kevorkian's Await Further Instructions does well is generalize the ease with which TV induced paranoia can magnify toxic personalities and break apart weak familial bonds. Unfortunately, the film is unbalanced due to its presentation of a claustrophobic character study that explodes suddenly into an ultra sci-fi body horror.
A family's Christmas gathering is interrupted when they are locked inside their home by a mysterious metal shell and a message on their TV telling them to stay indoors and "Await Further Instructions.” Strained family relationships are tested as they are given various tasks. The unspooling information turns them against one another while the building paranoia results in family members' true colors bubbling to the surface.
Kevorkian maintains an uneasy mood that rarely attempts to break tension with any form of comedic relief. Despite its dark tone and raising family drama it is all quite thin. The script keeps the science fiction at arm's length before bear hugging those concepts in the final minutes. For a time, the rocky relationships are enough to keep the film's plot propelling forward, bridged by the ominous messages given by the television. The characters more or less scratch the surface of your typical family strife-the overly strict and emotionally disconnected father, one sibling who attempts to work both sides of the aisle, the other sibling who feels like an outsider, and the mother has a heart of gold and just wants everyone to love each other. Perhaps these aren't a universal family formula, but it's fairly safe to say that the dynamics at play will resonate with many. Still, the film doesn't quite dig at the roots of these issues because it's trying vaguely to have its cake and eat it too. Juggling both the sci-fi elements and family issues ends up stunting the development of both tracts.
When Await Further Instructions is at its best it blends the genre tension with the personal issues and that is when the dread is at its peak. Eventually, as the proverbial sh*t hits the fan characters devolve into your typical active and reactive types and the mystery inches forward. Just when it seems like things might be wrapping up without specific answers, Kevorkian swings for the fences. The film becomes something of an insane alien/monster flick wrapped in a theme about society's obsession with television or perhaps technology as a whole. The sudden and brief explosion of genre insanity might leave audiences asking, "Where was this the whole time!?", leaving them a bit underwhelmed by the previous acts.
Await Further Instructions shines as a concept, but fumbles in its execution. There are plenty of visuals and performative moments to recommend Kervorkian’s film, but don't be surprised if you come out wishing you had gotten a little more of the finale’s lofty weirdness.