This may be the most subtle Black Mirror will ever get, with stunning performances and an unforgettable climax which props up Brooker's unequivocal grim speculations of modern life.
It’s seemingly a direct contradiction to find that the latest series of Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed dark, speculative fiction anthology, Black Mirror, is both the best series yet, and the least powerful of the three. With six episodes piled on Netflix for all our binge-watching needs, and with the show’s production, for the most part, headed stateside, Series 3 of Black Mirror is on the whole the least in touch with our own reality; but will remain nailed upon the mind like an incessant imprint. As the episodes roll on, it becomes apparent that a key theme for this season is that trust is something Brooker knows exactly how to exploit – to the bleak misfortunes of the protagonists we place that faith into.
‘Shut Up and Dance’, proves to be no exception – in fact, it revolves around it, in a hotpot of tension, twists and unbearable unease. It follows Kenny (Alex Lawther), a regular, gentle teenager, who inadvertently downloads a virus onto his computer which allows an unseen hacker to peer through his laptop webcam. Kenny is then blackmailed into following the cryptic instructions the hackers send to him – or else. Without giving anything away, it’s safe to say that all is not as it seems. Through strategic camera placement and tactical editing, we are left in the dark about so much, until it ends in a heart-racing, cataclysmic climax to rival that of Series 2’s shattering midpoint, ‘White Bear.’
And with ‘White Bear’ being Series 2’s shocking stand-out, it’s no surprise that ‘Shut Up and Dance’ is Series 3’s dark horse too, the two having a remarkable vein of similarities running through them. It’s both one of the most thought-provoking episodes of the season and one of the most shocking too. The unequivocal bleakness of ‘Shut Up and Dance’ expertly weaves the innocent and immoral together in classic Black Mirror style.
Whilst the episode’s storyline is enough to steal the show, Lawther’s performance as the awkward, anxious Kenny confidently propels the episode to sit snugly and smugly in award-winning territory. Lawther, having already been subject to a myriad of praise for his portrayal of the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, revels in this role. The first tense scene of the hour, Kenny finds he has been recorded masturbating via his computer camera and must do as he is told or the video will be leaked. Coming in at a solid five minutes long, the scene has no speech, no dialogue and no discourse. Lawther’s expert, near silent rendering of Kenny’s realisation and subsequent panic is brilliant, and the eye of a camera seems both subjective and judgemental. Somehow, without any speech or any sound, this is one of the most powerful scenes of the episode. I guarantee we’ll be seeing more of him on both our small and big screens – our own black mirrors, as it were.
‘Shut Up and Dance’ also utilises an utterly fantastic means of sound, both in the events unfolding and the soundtrack (Radiohead plays solemnly over the film’s climax, whilst police sirens haunt the unwitting Kenny as he trails his instructions). They also use lighting to an unprecedented advantage for the show, making it incredibly hard to fault Series 3’s midpoint. And whilst the series finale, ‘Hated in the Nation’, was inarguably something to behold, it remains to be seen why ‘Shut Up and Dance’ wasn’t kept for the finale itself. It’s nasty and utterly soul-scorching – and that’s the essence of Black Mirror’s enviable Brooker Bleakness.
Series 3 of Black Mirror, including ‘Shut Up and Dance’, is available to watch on Netflix now.