With all the horror I’ve consumed lately, a concern has been festering in the back of my mind: what if nothing scares me anymore? A message board post I recently read admitted that the author felt sad that he can’t enjoy horror movies the way he used to, because of this very reason. Maybe, like my recent favourites Don’t Breathe and Train to Busan, I can appreciate the tension those two use that is usually reserved for action movies and thrillers, rather than the lingering dread that the monster might crawl out of the screen and follow you home. Or, with my 2016 favourite The Windmill Massacre, perhaps I can just appreciate the creature’s design, the well-paced story and the creative gore.
I just won’t be scared.
But now, on the trotting heels of its prophetic Prime-Minister pig-fucking nostalgia, along comes Netflix’s Season 3 of Black Mirror. Hoorah! The show that I’d been forcing everyone under the sun to see finally has a third season on the bingewatching mecca of the interwebz.
Given the length and utter mindfuckedness of past episodes, I’d actually recommend against binging. Each episode follows you around for at least a day or two, and your brain needs time to push it back out. This one, based on Reddit comments, is one that requires just such a moratorium. (For me, it was Episode 3).
“Playtest”, Episode 2, plays with the very idea of what fear is, and how far it can be pushed to commodify it. Wyatt Russell (a curiously watchable genetic mesh of Kurt and Goldie) plays Cooper, a young American backpacker. Low on funds, he answers an ‘odd job’ ad to beta-test a well-known company’s augmented reality game – which concerns itself with pushing the limits of fear.
In my trademarked quest to avoid spoilers, I can only say that of course it gets more twisted from there. Prepare to be suitably unsettled.
It actually throws some good bits of tension at you before the inevitable ‘nothing could possi-blye go wrong’ trope’. But from there, it genuinely gets terrifying to the point of downright uncomfortable. I can’t remember the last time I gasped out loud at a screen. This is some fantastic storytelling. The fright in any episode of Black Mirror is the unease around seeing your contemporary surroundings on screen, with just one small element futurised, amplfied, and cloaked in gloom. It’s very possible that these things could happen. And, unlike a surprisingly creative serial killer or unbeatable ghoul, the ‘villains’ in Black Mirror aren’t a single entity – it’s a plausible concept spun out of control in its influence and potential to devastate. And isn’t that just some eye-watering, spine-tingling, stomach-sinking beautiful mindfuckery?