March 1, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Will Wernick
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Los Angeles and partially in New York City and Austin, Texas, the dramatic film “Safer at Home” features a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Asian and Latino) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: While quarantining during a coronavirus pandemic, a group of young urban professionals take Ecstasy during a nighttime videoconference chat, and something terrible happens that causes the night to spiral out of control.
Culture Audience: “Safer at Home” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching terribly written, dull movies that exploit a real-life deadly pandemic.
In the obnoxious and boring movie “Safer at Home,” a group of young people take Ecstasy during a video chat, and their drug-induced states of mind might explain some of the grossly illogical decisions that they make when they have to deal with an unexpected crisis. Viewers of this garbage movie will wonder if the filmmakers might have also been in an impaired state of mind to think that this junk was anywhere near approaching the level of “interesting to watch.” It’s one of those movies that was clearly made to cash in on the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s just an incoherent mess that’s a waste of time.
Directed by Will Wernick, who co-wrote the moronic screenplay with Lia Bozonelis, “Safer at Home” begins with a montage that’s a blend of real-life news footage taken in 2020 (at the start of the real-life COVID-19 pandemic in the United States) and fabricated news footage that’s supposed to depict 2021 and 2022. According to what’s shown, by January 23, 2022, a second coronavirus strain called COVID 20-B has spread, and the pandemic death toll in the U.S. has totaled 12.3 million people.
By August 4, 2022, a third coronavirus strain has appeared, and 31.2 million people in the U.S. have died from the pandemic. For those who don’t want to do the math, that’s 18.9 million people who died from the pandemic in the U.S. in just eight months. And there’s no vaccine for the second and third coronavirus strains that have decimated the population.
In Los Angeles, where the main action of the film takes place, a news report mentions that the Los Angeles Police Department’s newly appointed police chief Charles Yates has mandated an earlier curfew. (The movie doesn’t say what the current curfew cutoff time is.) If anyone is caught outside after the curfew and doesn’t have the proper credentials, that person will be arrested and sent to a detention center.
Considering the extreme death toll happening around them, this group of seven friends who are on the video conference call seem just a little too lighthearted and upbeat about the serious enormity of the pandemic. They view the pandemic as an inconvenience that has interrupted their party plans. Their biggest complaint in life is that their group trip to Las Vegas had to be cancelled twice because of the pandemic.
While millions of people are dying, these self-absorbed dimwits, who are in the early 30s age range, tell each other how hard it is that their own lives just aren’t the same because they can’t party together in person anymore. It shows how willfully tone-deaf this movie is with these shallow and idiotic characters. On the night of September 12, 2022, these empty-headed pals gather for a video conference call, which ends up being an excuse for all of them to take Ecstasy together on the call.
The doltish pals who are this conference call are:
- Evan (played by Dan J. Johnson), who ends up being at the center of the poorly written action in this story.
- Jen (played by Jocelyn Hudon), who is Evan’s live-in girlfriend. Evan and Jen live in Los Angeles.
- Oliver, nicknamed Ollie (played by Michael Kupisk), who is Evan’s best friend. Oliver lives in nearby Venice, California.
- Mia (played by Emma Lahana), who is Oliver’s girlfriend in a fairly new relationship. Mia is in the process of divorcing her husband (who’s not seen or heard in the movie), and she’s moved in with Oliver, although Mia and Oliver are calling their living arrangement “quarantining together.”
- Harper (played by Alisa Allapach), who seems to be Jen’s best friend. Harper is a stoner who lives by herself in Austin, Texas.
- Ben (played by Adwin Brown), who is an attorney and the most level-headed one in the group, although that’s not saying much because he makes some very dumb decisions, like everyone else in this movie.
- Liam (played by Daniel Robaire), Ben’s live-in boyfriend, who’s a lot more reckless and flamboyant than Ben is. Ben and Liam live in New York City.
Before the videoconference starts with all of the members of this group, Jen and Harper have a private conversation where Jen tells Harper some news that she’s very happy and excited about: Jen is pregnant, but she hasn’t told Evan yet. Jen makes it obvious that she hopes that when she tells Evan about the pregnancy, it’ll be the extra motivation he needs to propose marriage to her. Harper congratulates Jen, who asks that Harper not tell anyone else about the pregnancy until Jen has a chance to tell Evan.
And it just so happens that this videoconference call is taking place on Evan’s birthday. To celebrate, Oliver has arranged for a drug dealer he knows to mail all of them packets of designer Ecstasy, also known as molly. Oliver insists that they take the Ecstasy pills at the same time during the call. (By the way, the cinematography lighting in this movie is horrendous and unrealistic, since all of these friends have the same type of dark lighting in their rooms, as if they’re about to have a séance by videoconference.)
Ben is very reluctant to indulge in doing drugs, but he eventually gives in to peer pressure and takes Ecstasy at the same time as everyone else. Why is pregnant Jen doing Ecstasy and drinking beer? That’s hurriedly explained at one point in the movie, which becomes buried in a cesspool of bad plot developments.
As the Ecstasy starts to take effect, it leads to some useless scenes of awkward dancing (Ben, Jen and Harper do an embarrassing version of twerking), and then some people in the group make gossipy comments about each other’s relationships. The characters in this movie are so hollow and badly written, viewers won’t find out what any of these friends (except for Ben) does for a living, and there’s no backstory on how they all know each other.
It’s mentioned without going into too many details that Ben cheated on Liam in the past. And it’s apparently still a sore spot in their relationship, because Liam brings up the infidelity as an example of how Ben shouldn’t act so morally self-righteous about Liam wanting to do Ecstasy. Jen is leery of Mia, who’s a newcomer to their social circle, because Jen thinks Mia might be an inappropriate rebound for Oliver, whose most recent ex-girlfriend Rachel is someone who had Jen’s approval. Meanwhile, Liam makes a catty comment about Harper not being part of a couple.
This group of immature friends then move on to playing “Never Have I Ever.” How old are they again? Fifteen? First, the confession is “Never have I ever had a one-night stand.” Then it’s “Never have I ever slept with two people in the same day.” This leads Jen to confess that when she was in high school, she had a threesome with two guys.
Evan is shocked because it’s the first time he’s hearing about it. He’s also hurt because he expected Jen to tell him something like that in private first instead of blurting it out to to him and their friends. This threesome confession leads to Evan and Jen arguing, while their videocamera is still on in their living room.
During this argument, Oliver and Mia have gone to another room to have sex. Ben and Liam have gone into their bathroom because Ben is feeling ill and panicky from the Ecstasy. Harper is still on the call. She’s turned off the video but she can hear Evan and Jen arguing.
In the heat of the quarrel with Evan and Jen shouting at each other, Jen steps back and accidentally falls backward on the hard floor of the living room and gets a severe head injury. It’s bad enough where there’s the sound of a cracked skull. Evan panics because Jen isn’t responding, and blood is coming out of her head.
Evan frantically tells Harper that Jen is dead from an accidental fall. Harper didn’t see what happened but she heard Jen fall. And even though Evan is wailing that it was an accident, Harper isn’t sure what to believe. She turns the video back on, sees Jen bleeding on the floor, and Harper starts to panic too. Although the audience can see that Jen’s fall was an accident (Evan didn’t even touch her), no one else outside of Evan and Jen’s apartment saw her fall.
However, the movie has a plot hole in not explaining that the video camera in Evan and Jen’s living room still captured what happened during the livestream, so that would be enough proof that it was an accident. But if the characters in this movie thought that logically, there would be no “Safer at Home” movie because the rest of this dumb story is about all of them panicking over the thought that Evan will be arrested. Evan and Harper frantically shout for the other people to get back on the conference call, in order to tell them what happened.
Why didn’t they call 911 to get medical help for Jen? Oliver shouts, “They won’t send an ambulance! They’ll send the police!” Evan doesn’t want to call for help either. Adding to their panic, Evan and Jen’s nosy neighbor (who’s an ex-cop) in their apartment building comes over to find out what’s going on because he said he heard Jen and Evan arguing. The neighbor tries to go inside the apartment to snoop, but Evan manages to prevent him from coming too far into the apartment to see Jen lying on the floor in a pool of blood.
Evan, who’s paranoid about being arrested, then stupidly decides now would be a good time to go somewhere and break the curfew, thereby putting himself at risk of being arrested. He decides to drive to Oliver’s apartment, but he doesn’t forget to take the video camera with him while it’s still logged on to the videoconference chat. Because that’s apparently what you do when you want to run from the law: Keep the video chat going with your friends.
Meanwhile, Oliver jumps in his car to go to Evan’s place before finding out that Evan is on the way to Oliver’s place. Oliver also makes sure that he’s still logged into the video chat while driving. Just like Evan, Oliver keeps looking into the video camera while driving and talking during the video chat.
It’s as if Evan and Oliver want to make sure the camera angle looks great when they’re talking to the camera during this crisis, instead of keeping their eyes on the road while driving. And while they’re outside in public places during this deadly pandemic, Oliver and Evan don’t wear masks, but they keep the video chat going. Priorities.
Mia, who doesn’t know Evan very well, thinks it’s possible that Evan could have killed Jen, so she doesn’t want Evan anywhere near her. She’s also very uncomfortable about Oliver wanting to help Evan, but Oliver scolds Mia and tells her that Evan is a good guy who wouldn’t kill Jen. At one point, Oliver advises Evan to go to Griffith Park so Evan can be by himself. To do what? Meditate?
Of course, as soon as Evan drives outside, you know what’s going to happen. And it does: Police helicopters see his car, so he’s followed by the police. The rest of the movie gets even more ridiculous, and it leads to two mind-numbingly atrocious plot twists. And viewers will either be howling with laughter and/or yelling at the screen over how bad the acting is throughout “Safer at Home.”
One of the worst things about the movie is how Evan (who is African American/biracial) and his racial identity are used by the “Safer at Home” filmmakers in a disgusting, exploitative way. There’s nothing remotely entertaining about this mindless and dull film, which shamefully tries to make money off of deadly issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. The only real safety lesson that can come from “Safer at Home” is to avoid this toxic trash dump of a film altogether if you value your time and your intelligence.
Vertical Entertainment released “Safer at Home” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on February 26, 2021.