Directed by Will Wernick
Written by Will Wernick and Lia Bozonelis
In our current situation, I think we all could have expected the surge of quarantine/COVID-19 movies to come eventually. Movies that were born out of and creatively influenced by the worldwide pandemic that has pushed all of us to spend nearly all of our time cooped up in our homes, interacting with the outside world through video conferencing. Some of these films may tackle the subject head on and build around the experience of living inside of our bubbles, constantly threatened by the disease, while other, like Malcolm & Marie for instance, may use the opportunity to tell a story completely separate from the current circumstances, but do so while flexing different creative muscles that may have otherwise not been explored if there were restrictions on how films could be made. Safer at Home takes the path of tackling the subject head on, told completely in real time through the lens of a video conference call between friends, and amid a growing worldwide pandemic. But is such an approach something we want to see, or is it simply too soon? I guess the answer could be in how the artists ultimately treat the subject.
A group of friends decide to get together for a fun celebration over video conference one night for the birthday of one of the group, Evan (Dan J. Johnson). We can see how quarantine over the course of 18+ months has affected all of them. With COVID-19 mutating multiple times, and killing 100s of millions worldwide, the group is slightly jaded to say the least, but still finding a way to connect and have fun. Oliver (Michael Kupisk), who is now co-quarantining with a new girl Mia (Emma Lahana), sends the group molly to take and get high while they have fun. The group is hesitant at first, but ultimately persuaded. While Oliver and Mia go off for their own fun, and Ben (Adwin Brown) and Liam (Daniel Robaire) deal with Ben not taking well to the drugs, Evan and his girlfriend Jen (Jocelyn Hudon) get into a fight, which results in Jen knocking her head and appearing to bleed out. Given the dire circumstances, Evan and the group are forced to reckon with what has happened and find a solution quick, as the next door neighbor is becoming suspicious.
To be honest, I’m not ready for a film like Safer to Home, and I don’t know that I ever will be. Given the forward thinking of the film in terms of the pandemic, I can’t tell if the filmmakers are exercising a bleak prediction, or hoping to create a false alternate future in which their film can take place to remove it from the realness of the present. Because honestly, creating multiple, deadly strains of COVID, and having hundreds of millions die to set up the story your about to tell is just a little too real and bleak for my tastes. And in fact, tackling this pandemic head on in this manner is just in poor taste in my opinion, at least done in the manner in which this film does. By utilizing what has been an historic worldwide emergency and situation to position an “entertaining” thriller movie is not something that I enjoyed or could find any real value in. Playing it in this way just feels wrong and cringey.
If we are able to take out the COVID backdrop (we’re not, but let’s play a hypothetical), then the film is a competent low-budget thriller. The internet thriller has come into vogue in recent years, even before the pandemic made it all too familiar for everyone across the globe, with films like Unfriended and Host making some waves. It’s a unique scenario that, while constrained by the video boxes and locations, actually lends itself quite well to some creative expression. Safer at Home is no different, as it’s interesting to track multiple “shots” at the same time, and observe how Will Wernick, the filmmaker, makes decisions about where to draw your attention and the little details happening on the sidelines of the experience. This particular iteration is nothing special, but the filmmaking style is somewhat inherently interesting, even if the characters deciding to continue streaming for no other purpose than for the audience to be able to see is a pretty transparent cheat.
I think the story being told in this film is fine, and even using COVID as a backdrop, while a fine line, is something that more thoughtful and artistic filmmakers could tackle with success. But with Safer at Home, I don’t see the extended false future of COVID working, and it in some ways sinks the film by making it too real and taking reality too far. It’s just not a film that sits well with me at all for these reasons. Could a more accomplished and careful delivery of a Zoom thriller during COVID be possible? I’d like to think that yes, there is some filmmaker who could find the requisite balance between reality and fiction to give us that movie, but at the same time, I don’t know how much my adverse reaction to Safer at Home is due to a lack of sensitivity on behalf of Will Wernick, and how much of it just will never work for me, especially at this specific time and place and where we are, still fighting this pandemic. Regardless the reason, I didn’t enjoy Safer at Home.