Book Review: Panic Button / Author: Frazer Lee / Publisher: CreateSpace / Release Date: Out Now
The spirit of the lost art of the movie novelisation tie-in lives on in this snappy, rattling adaptation by Frazer Lee (The Lamplighters) of his co-written screenplay for the superior straight-to-DVD British thriller Panic Button which was released last November. Four gullible, greedy strangers are brought together by the social networking site All2Gether when they win a luxury no-expense-spared flight to New York; there’s a struggling single mum, a free-thinking hippy chick, a misogynistic Jack-the-Lad and a more down-to-Earth Ordinary Joe. But as the aircraft sets off the mysterious ‘Alligator’, a crude computer-screen animation, light-heartedly coaxes them into taking part in on-board personality competitions with the promise of yet more fabulous riches - and before long the game’s turned sour, hidden secrets are revealed and a once-in-a-lifetime Transatlantic freebie becomes once-in-a-lifetime in more ways than one. Soon the quartet are fighting not only for their own lives but also those of their loved ones…
Borne out of a distrust of the phenomenon of social networking - intrinsically anti-social as complete strangers who never meet become ‘friends’ with the capacity to reinvent themselves or just take an airbrush to the darker corners of their lives - Panic Button is quite the cautionary tale as well as an edgy, well-wrought thriller. Each of the four ‘winners’ has something to hide, something their on-line persona allows them to sweep under the carpet so they can present a cheerful, well-balanced, positive-thinking individual to the wider world of absolute strangers. But the reality of social networking can have a disastrously dehumanising effect and it can open up a world of horrors to its users which they sometimes can’t help but be blasé and dismissive of, hiding behind their on-line anonymity; how many of us have looked at some blog entry or video clip and then wondered if we weren’t perhaps intruding on someone else’s private misery?
Panic Button is a taut, disturbing little movie and Frazer Lee’s novelisation ratchets up the tension as his prose enables him to get deeper inside the minds of his characters, revealing little tidbits and secrets the script just didn’t have room for and reinstating one or two sequences excised from the screen version due to time and budgetary constraints. There remain a couple of problems with the story - the ‘mystery’ over the real identity of ‘Max’ never really amounts to much and we remain in the dark as to why the mysterious ‘Alligator’ singles out these four luckless individuals for punishment, what turned them from internet obsessives into a madman’s victims? Because the truth is, whatever you think of social network sites, ‘Alligator’ is an absolute madman, wreaking revenge for a personal tragedy shared with the world on a few rather stupid individuals who just happened to stumble upon it online.
Despite a few minor story niggles this is an intelligent and propulsive book, pressing all the right buttons - panic or otherwise - as a standalone piece of fiction even if you’ve not seen the movie version.