Tony Black reviews the third episode of Black Mirror season 3, ‘Shut Up and Dance’…
You know those TV episodes or movies that are almost unqualified genius but you can’t ever bring yourself to watch them again? Black Mirror has given me one here with ‘Shut Up and Dance’, which might well be the most psychologically harrowing episode Charlie Brooker’s modern anthology series has served up yet. As cautionary tales go for the modern technological age, this could be the ultimate, one that does precisely what this show succeeds at so brilliantly – tapping into societal fears based on everyday actions. In this case, for any of you who may have pleasured yourself in front of your laptop (and let’s face it, you’ve probably done it in your life), after watching this episode you may seriously think twice about any questionable errors of judgment. What happens to teenager Kenny, disturbingly, doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
Played superbly by Alex Lawther, Kenny is an awkward late teen, working in a restaurant, who does what plenty of teens do and knocks one off on his laptop at home. Cue a few minutes later an email from an unknown party claiming they’ve recorded everything through his webcam, and unless he provides his number, they will leak everything to everyone he knows. A terrified Kenny soon finds himself on the receiving end of instructions that lead him into a chain of people, all with mud on them, being manipulated by these shadowy online figures to increasingly dangerous acts. Forced into a difficult alliance with flawed family man Hector (played with everyman edge by Jerome Flynn), Kenny is taken on a psychological roller coaster ride in Brooker & William Bridges’ script, which twists and turns toward a devastating conclusion.
Not everything on the face of it is quite what it seems throughout the episode, and the true genius of the story is that once it’s over, as you’re left utterly bereft, it makes you look back with additional context and realise there’s a horrible gut punch lurking within. It reminded me of an episode of The X-Files from the mid-90’s called ‘Blood’, whereby innocent people were being compelled by subliminal messages to murderous actions – this isn’t the same story but there are similarities, given a modern sheen and context.
It’s rare to find such a piece of television as superbly put together as ‘Shut Up and Dance’. Directed with grubby, low-fi, middle-England tension by James Watkins, and made up of two magnificent performances which accentuate an already clever and utterly disturbing script, Black Mirror here delivers another timely reminder of what this show can do. This hour of television will take anyone who has grown up in the age of technological freedom and make them reflect, make them consider and make you wonder just how easy what happens here could actually take place. It’s terrifying and given how emotionally wrecked you may be left by the end, you may need a stiff drink or, as I did, put on something soft & nice as a balm. Mine was Gilmore Girls. Maybe someone will blackmail me now I’ve admitted that…