Three episodes in now, and we finally get an episode that feels truly like what Channel 4’s Black Mirror used to feel like. It’s full of tension, mystery, terror…and a twist in the tail that adds depth to an already meaningful and sinister story.
Like all 19-year-olds, ‘Shut Up and Dance’ protagonist Kenny (Alex Lawther) loves a cheeky bit of masturbation. After installing a lock on his bedroom door to keep out his prying sister, Kenny settles in for the night with the intention of getting off before logging off. However, after installing an insidious malware blocker, he soon learns that his most private moments may not be so private after all, and is blackmailed into following orders sent to him by text message. Matters escalate until Kenny is embroiled in a deadly game that he’s far too deep into. One question remains: how far would you go to stop your family seeing you watch porn?
The scariest part about this third instalment is that it could certainly happen in the real world – today. No, not like how the previous ‘Playtest‘ seems like it could happen in a matter of years. Not even like how Black Mirror’s 2011 debut – The National Anthem – predicted a certain Prime Minister’s sexual interaction with a certain swine. ‘Shut Up and Dance’ depicts a situation of extortion and shame that definitely occurs in our modern world, and is a reason why some choose to cover their laptop cameras with tape. If anything, this alone makes it one of the more commendable episodes that we’ve been granted recently; it inspires genuine unease.
In terms of execution, this episode is better than some, but far from perfect. Sure, there’s the aforementioned twist that adds a level of depravity to an already unfortunate situation, but otherwise there’s too many questions by the end that remain unanswered. Who are the people texting Kenny? Why group him in with others who have enacted varying degrees of immorality? These are just a couple of queries that you’ll be left to figure out on your own, and it makes for a slightly unsatisfying ending for an otherwise interesting experience.
The acting in ‘Shut Up and Dance’ is really what pulls it through. Alex Lawther’s quietly unnerving portrayal of the story’s protagonist is enthralling to watch unfold, and his eventual partner in crime, Hector (Jerome Flynn), contributes an alternate perspective on the entire affair. It’s difficult to properly convey their roles without spoiling the episode’s several turning points, but you’ll just have to trust me: they’re worth the price of admission. There’s definitely some weaker contributions, such as Kenny’s sister and Mum, but they’re minor roles that can be forgotten as quickly as they appear.
The production values for this instalment might pale in comparison to ‘Nosedive‘, but that just goes to show that money doesn’t mean everything. Sure, there’s not the A-list personas that feature previously, but it honestly doesn’t matter as far as quality is concerned.