Despite its amalgam of styles and influences, Await Further Instructions transcends mere pastiche.
In Await Further Instructions, horror begins to unfurl like an unsettling scenario in “The Twilight Zone”: a dysfunctional family that has gathered for Christmas wakes up to find the house encased in a mysterious, impenetrable black barrier, and yet the gravest threat initially appears to come from how they treat each other. The first two acts roil with the kind of a paranoia-driven tension found in John Carpenter’s The Thing as the openly xenophobic Milgram family—who can barely contain their disdain for previously quasi-estranged son Nick’s (Sam Gittins) foreign-born new girlfriend, Annji (Neerja Naik)—begin to distrust each other, form factions and desperately seek a scapegoat for their inexplicable, otherworldly predicament. By its off-the-rails third act, insidious horror swells to Cronenbergian proportions.
Upon encountering the black substance that’s enveloped his home and blocked every exit, stodgy middle-aged dad Tony (Grant Masters) immediately grasps for the most (relatively) comfortable explanation, latching onto the idea that the family has been quarantined by a protective government following some sort of biochemical attack. This theory gains some traction when, with the house’s phone and internet service cut off, the television flickers to life with simple directives broadcast in block letters instructing the family to hunker down and await further instructions. Wounded by his haggard and venomously racist father’s (David Bradley) constant belittlement of his pragmatic but mundane occupation as an office manager, Tony asserts himself as family decisionmaker and insists on not letting their detainment prevent them from enjoying a “proper British” Christmas dinner—at least until the instructions on the TV tell him to throw away all the food, which he promptly and unquestioningly does.
The stakes get raised dramatically as the mysterious instructions begin to grow more invasive and sinister and bodies start to hit the floor. Despite the precarious health of his heavily pregnant daughter Kate (Holly Weston), Tony is willing, at all costs, to do whatever the messages instruct—an unsubtle critique of a 21st century society easily goaded to act against their own best interests because the talking heads on TV tell them to. Tony also embodies the resentful vindictiveness of white, middle-aged males that has fueled the rise in populism during the past few years, touching upon toxic masculinity and the oppressiveness of patriarchy—kind, reasonable mom Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) constantly defers to her increasingly unhinged husband despite her better judgment. That the film never fully explores the cultural themes it introduces ultimately helps more than hinders the film by never bogging it down in heavy-handed preachiness and instead staying firmly planted in retro-horror homage that increasingly recalls aspects of The Blob, Videodrome and the work of Stuart Gordon.
And yet despite its amalgam of styles and influences, Await Further Instructions transcends mere pastiche, adding a unique wrinkle to otherwise familiar terrain. Gavin Williams’ script ripples with interpersonal conflict and culture clashes drenched in paranoia, while director Johnny Kevorkian creates a claustrophobic atmosphere of creeping dread that’s only heightened as the instructions from the television become increasingly malevolent, making this film timely and impactful without wielding its commentary like a cudgel.