Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 2: Playtest review
Black Mirror has flirted with the horror genre before, but not even White Bear was a full on assault on the senses like Playtest is. A terrifying mix of creepy locations, jump scares, and disorientating storytelling, the episode is so effectively scary that it takes a while to realise how completely ludicrous it is.
10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg helms the episode, which sees broke American backpacker Cooper (the excellent Wyatt Russell) volunteer as a video game tester for a mysterious new virtual reality project. Implanted with a chip by the seemingly-friendly Katie (Wunmi Mosaku), Cooper’s initially fun trip into 3D projections turns dark when he tests out the latest horror game; a simulator which works its way into your mind and confronts you with your darkest fears.
After a slow but mildly charming start in which Cooper spends the night with an English woman and reveals he’s recovering from the death of his Father, Playtest really kicks into gear when Cooper starts his horror experience, spending the night in that creepiest of locations; an abandoned old house. Trachtenberg turns Playtest into a rollercoaster of a horror experience, starting with CGI spiders and progressively getting scarier until it climaxes with one of the creepiest images I’ve seen in any film or TV show in years. Think Denis Villenueve’s Enemy, but so much worse. The long section of Russell on his own, talking to Katie in his earpiece or reacting to the game, is the best sequence of the episode, mostly carried by Russell’s incredibly charismatic turn.
Like the worst episodes of Black Mirror, Playtest makes a bit of a mess of its final twists and turns. After a long middle act, Brooker races through the final ten minutes, giving them a lack of clarity or emotion. Cooper is a pretty sympathetic and likable character, but it’s hard to really care about his ultimate fate because it’s confusingly presented and treated like a clever twist rather than a big character moment. The first half is fun, thrilling horror at its best, but Brooker and Trachtenberg drop the ball with the too-clever, borderline-incomprehensible finale, leaving Playtest as a middling episode at best.
By Harry J. Ford
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