Filmmaking has been forced to make a shift due to restrictions presented by the pandemic. With the 2020 breakout film Host by Rob Savage, the video call has become an essential tool for creating content to keep the film industry afloat. Safer at Home is a film that also uses the video call as a suspense device. It’s another example of how to use an ensemble cast within the video call format, but it’s not without some problems.
It’s 2022, and the coronavirus has reared its ugly head once again. A deadlier variant has forced countries to lock down, and in the U.S., enforce curfews and martial law to keep the spread at bay. Harper (Alisa Allapach), Oliver(Michael Kupisk), Liam (Daniel Robaire), and Evan (Dan J. Johnson) get together online to celebrate Evan’s birthday along with their significant others Mia (Emma Lahana), Jen (Jocelyn Hudson)and Ben (Adwin Brown). Oliver has sent them all a package filled with party favours and a designer version of ecstasy. After indulging in the drug, emotions build until a freak accident sends them into a panic, and the friends watch helplessly as a terrible situation becomes a nightmare.
Director Will Wernick has put out a couple of entertaining B-movies, but Safer at Home seems to show maturity in his filmmaking. The cast is good, diverse and tries to carry a script that lags slightly as the action unfolds via cell phone and tablet. Pictionary, dance battles, and fun banter between friends peppered with quarantine realities like single life, dating and coupledom, keep the momentum going until the accident occurs. From there on, there are drug-induced decisions that may frustrate viewers, as well as one character’s spiral into more bad choices. There’s also a kitchen sink of quarantine-related details that Wernick and his co-writers Lia Bozonelis and John Ierardi cram in, but there are two aspects that stand out and bear mentioning. The first is the homeless and tent cities featured, and rightfully so, since I can’t imagine it gets better two years in during another outbreak sure to leave many more people destitute. The second is abuse that occurs during a lockdown. The ability to leave an abusive relationship during quarantine also surfaces briefly. It’s a part of some people’s lives that is often ignored.
One has to be delicate about anything involving police brutality at this point in history. Safer at Home seems to want to encapsulate all of the killings by police caught on video into one pivotal event. I’m not sure that we need to highlight what’s now sadly become the archetypical person of colour being brutalized by police which is what I think happens here. It’s overdone, insensitive and lands flatly. There needs to be accountability for who tells POC stories. We aren’t at the point where it no longer matters, so there must be at least one Black person on the writing team until then. Representation behind the camera is a non-negotiable to tell Black stories, especially ones as traumatic as violence against Black people. Producers and directors need to heed this as a serious factor in how their work is seen.
Technically, Safer at Home is the type of film we should get used to. Innovation is the key to keep directors, actors and crews working, but instead of being the next big thing, there needs to be more thought about why these stories are written and by whom.
Available on-demand and in select theatres February 26.