Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 3: Shut Up and Dance review
Even in a show which has forced the PM to have sex with a pig, tortured a criminal with an elaborate theme park, and trapped a digital clone in a cabin for millions of years, Shut Up and Dance is the cruellest, most harrowing episode of Black Mirror yet. A sinister mystery plot fulled by online shaming, it’s also one of the best episodes of the series to date.
In an astonishing performance, Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game) plays Kenny, a bumbling young man who comes home from his dead end job to discover his sister has infected his laptop with a virus. After cleaning his hard drive and masturbating to internet porn, he’s horrified to receive an anonymous email featuring a video of himself, recorded through his webcam. Threatened with having the video sent to everyone he knows, Kenny is blackmailed into completing a series of increasingly difficult tasks, eventually crossing paths with the philandering Hector (Jerome Flynn, managing to be likable despite being pretty horrible). Why are Kenny and Hector being blackmailed? Who are the other mysterious people seemingly involved in the blackmail scheme? And just how far are Kenny and Hector willing to go?
Like The National Anthem and White Bear before it, Shut Up and Dance is a difficult watch; disturbingly plausible, increasingly intense, culminating in a brutal, bleak ending. Set against the ticking clock of the blackmail threat, the episode works as a queasy thriller, brilliantly directed by James Watkins (The Woman In Black, Eden Lake). Unlike previous episodes, which felt too polished, Shut Up and Dance borders on British realism, all grimy concrete and handheld camera movements. It works, as the episode feels far more breathless and tense even as it leaves a hollowness in your stomach.
A relative unknown, Lawther is sublime as the soft, nervous Kenny, uncomfortably realistic as a teenager facing what is, to him, the end of the world. At times, he’s such a bawling mess, it’s actually pretty difficult to watch, but the taut nature of the plot keeps you hooked. As a family man caught trying to meet a prostitute, Jerome Flynn couldn’t be more different from his Game of Thrones character (minus the prostitute); gone is the cocky strut, replaced by self-loathing and a constant look of revulsion. He’s playing a slimy, manipulative cheater, yet Flynn plays him like a deer in the headlights; he’s not sympathetic, but he’s recognisably human.
Some viewers will find Shut Up and Dance so thoroughly draining, they’ll probably hate it (it’s been divisive with critics so far). It’s definitely the toughest episode of Black Mirror so far, starting on a creepy note and getting worse and worse, twisting and turning until it answers a question you’ve barely had time to think about with an absolute punch to the gut. Utterly, overwhelmingly nasty but endlessly fascinating and gripping, Shut Up and Dance might leave you scrabbling to cover up your webcam, but it will stay haunting you for days after.
By Harry J. Ford
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