She wakes up to signs of a suicide attempt, but no memory of her backstory. a mysterious symbol flickers on the TV screens, and photos provoke static flashes of forgotten fragments. Masked hunters chase her through the streets with rifles and hacksaws, as phone wielding neighbours grin and film the horror that unfolds, whilst refusing to acknowledge the fear, pain or personhood of our protagonist. Who is the fox among the hounds, and what is the reason for the hunt, and the passive ghoulish audience? This installment or Charlie Brooker’s technological dystopia is one part sic fi, two parts horror- think Orwell on some really bad acid.
I had flashbacks to grainy Doctor Who episodes or yore as I peeked from behind the sofa (I am not so good with blood) hoping the masked assassins had bad aim, or that at least that the I could blink and miss the fatal blow. As with all of Brooker’s offerings, there is a killer twist in the tale, which only only deepens the grimace you find permanently etched on your face upon viewing. Without revealing too much, I can say the big reveal plumbs the deepest darkest corners of the human psyche, exploring issues such as blood sports and mob mentality.
Whilst I sympathised with the unnamed girl who acted as prey to the costumed killers, I empathised with her plight far less than perhaps I would had her performance been ever so slightly more convincing; her fear, whilst palpable, was rather one dimensional in form- gasping screams with little beneath the surface led to annoyance rather than pity on occasion, even as I cringed behind my cushions. Her cohorts (both enemies and allies alike) were much more persuasive during the chase; whether demonically sadistic or ambivalently helpful, they propelled the nameless victim along her path with pace, energy and depth. Michael Smiley in particularly shines as the twinkly eyed and mysterious Baxter, provoking simultaneously a sense of relief and unease upon his dramatic entrance.
The real star on show here is Brooker’s writing, which even when imperfectly rendered by performers is gruesomely gripping; a story of seemingly inevitable brutality, rendering even the safest sofa into insufficient sanctuary. If you like your nerves shredded and your dystopias bloody, then, my friend, you are in luck. You cold sadist, you.