Fortitude – TV Review

For those who have so far found the second series of Broadchurch to be a tepid and increasingly contrived disappointment, Sky Atlantic’s new icy crime drama Fortitude might just be the perfect alternative. Part of the channel’s recent push to broaden its horizons and produce homegrown content on a par with HBO heavy-hitters like Game of Thrones, the artic circle-set drama has all the familiar tropes of a moody whodunnit, but crucially injects them with new-life to create something that is eerie, absorbing and palpably chilling.

The title refers to the name of the isolated town where the series is set. While other dramas have previously exposed the dark underbelly of a seemingly idyllic town, Fortitude immediately distinguishes itself by centring the drama in a place that feels tantalisingly alien.

Filmed partly on location in Iceland – a popular movie stand-in for apocalypse-ruined planets – the series is shrouded in a powerful sense of the otherworldly with a menacing contrast between the virgin-white snowcaps and the dark, primordial ooze that lurks beneath the permafrost creating a constant feeling of unease that is only amplified by the increasing hints of the supernatural as the plot draws on.

Surrounded on all sides by insurmountable glaciers and impenetrable blizzards, Fortitude is a boiling pot of small-town paranoia that is poised to erupt, Sofie Grabol’s Governor Odegaard’s controversial plan to reinvent the town as an upmarket tourist destination is merely the tip of the iceberg of unspoken tension and personal conflicts that is brewing among the town’s denizens.

Odegaard may like to claim that her home is the “safest place on Earth” – despite every resident being required to carry a gun for protection from a ferocious polar bear population – but the claustrophobic paranoia that is inherent of such an isolated community is plainly a recipe for disaster and it’s only a matter of time before a sudden dark event shatters the fragile peace.

The arrival of violence and trauma in a previously peaceful community is, of course, nothing new in television, but Fortitude’s USP is its steady, hypnotic pacing. Whereas shows like Broadchurch and The Missing looked to drag viewers in their world with an unexpected jolt of horror – the gut-wrenching scene where James Nesbitt’s father realises his son has disappeared springs to mind – Fortitude is more subtle in its approach.

Writer Simon Donald (Low Winter Sun) is content to simply trawl across the desolate tundra following the seemingly everyday lives of the town’s inhabitants. It’s a masterclass in how to slowly build suspense, with Donald sporadically punctuating scenes of the mundane with sudden sparks of dread, such as a young boy collapsing from a fever or an uneasy standoff on the edge of a glacier, and the payoff finally comes when Luke Treadaway’s newcomer stumbles upon the mauled body of a murdered biologist – a haunting scene that immediately sends shockwaves through the community.

With such a large ensemble cast to work with, it can be difficult to balance everyone’s screen time and adequately develop their roles – especially when their characters are all playing their cards so close to their thermal undies – but the cast of Fortitude turns out to be one of its primary strengths.

Stanley Tucci might make a late entrance, but the arrival of his charmingly cocky forensic expert Eugene Morton injects the story with some refreshing quirky humour as he immediately butts heads with the town’s sheriff (a thrillingly enigmatic Richard Dormer). There are also great turns from Galdor as the fiercely determined Odegaard and Michael Gambon as a terminally ill resident who find himself at the centre of all the dark events destroying the town. And with the series progressing at such a melodic pace, there’s still plenty of time for the rest of the cast to make a bigger impression as the series progresses.

With its striking visuals, unique location, subtle pacing and intriguing mix of characters, Fortitude is an ambitious and pleasingly promising addition to an already overstuffed genre. And while viewers have recently been scorned by series that didn’t live up to expectations, there’s enough that’s refreshing and mesmerising about this first episode to suggest this was a worthwhile gamble for Sky. At the very least, it’s far more entertaining than anything going on in Broadchurch right now.

Click here to watch the trailer for Fortitude

Advertisements

Ex Machina – Film Review

The question of what it means to be human has been mulled over in high-concept science fiction stories ever since Mary Shelley first dared to challenge the omnipotence of God in 1818. And while Ex Machina covers some of the same ground, using Frankenstein as a model for its darkly manipulative creator-creation relationship, first-time director Alex Garland also takes the idea a step further, updating the concept to tap into current fears about the potential of artificial intelligence and the fate of humanity to create this taut, absorbing and powerful psychological thriller.

Domhnall Gleeson is Caleb, a slightly geeky coder who wins a competition to spend of week residing with the reclusive owner (Oscar Isaac) of the world’s largest search engine. Yet when he arrives at the super-modern, super-isolated glacial mansion, Caleb discovers that he hasn’t just been invited to sample the mountain air or his boss’s finest vodka but also to conduct a variation of the Turing Test on an advanced AI (Alicia Vikander’s Ava) that looks strikingly human.

A densely-packed script tackles challenging scientific and philosophical themes, such as the relationship between man and machine and the role of sexuality in human consciousness, but Garland keeps things compellingly cerebral throughout by confining the action to the sleekly claustrophobic interiors of Nathan’s high-tech compound, which recalls both The Shinning and 2001: A Space Odyssey with its eerie red-carpeted halls and computer controlled security system, evoking the mesmerising tension of early Kubrick.

There’s very little physical action to speak of, at least until the closing stages when the story verges into gory horror terrain, and the plot is instead powered by a series of intense conversation between Caleb, Ava and Nathan which Garland uses to repeatedly twist our perceptions of who these characters are and what they want in a way that is captivatingly unnerving.

Of course it might be less effective if it wasn’t so marvellously performed. Isaac’s elusive and calculating tech billionaire is an intense presence throughout, possessing the blind hubris inherent of a child prodigy as well as the pent-up aggression you’d expect of a ruthless businessman who pummels punchbags as a hangover cure. Vikander, too, is utterly convincing as an advanced automaton with her poised-yet-off-kilter body language perfectly contrasting the innocent curiosity with which she inflects her speech in a way that welcomes recollections of Sonny from I, Robot. Gleeson, meanwhile, is polite and suspicious in equal measure, his likeable everyman persona providing the prefect vessel for the audience to enter this disturbing and innovative world.

Ex Machina is a film that bravely poses big questions about the modern world and also dares to leave them unanswered with a story that is bound to provoke debate and would benefit from a second viewing. But it’s not just for inquisitive science buffs as Garland deftly boils down his dense material into a sharp, suspenseful thriller that is guaranteed to leave you breathless until long after the credits have rolled.

Runtime: 108 mins; Genre: Sci-fi/Horror; Released: 23 January 2015;

Director: Alex Garland; Writer: Alex Garland;

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno

Click here to watch the trailer for Ex Machina

The Man in the High Castle – Pilot Review

With doubts over Amazon’s ability to compete in the world of online streaming finally put to bed following last week’s Golden Globes win for poignant original comedy Transparent, it seems viewers are finally ready to sit up and take note of what the online retail giant has to offer.

How fortuitous, then, that the latest run of Amazon’s “pilot season”, which invites Amazon Prime subscriber’s to watch and rate potential new shows, has recently opened, with the best rated shows being turned into full series.

The new offerings range from high-quality documentaries and half-baked comedies to promising American remakes, but by far the best of the new bunch is The Man in the High Castle, a thrilling and gorgeously shot adaptation of Philip K Dick’s novel of the same name.

The series also boasts Blade Runner-director Ridley Scott as executive producer and X-Files’s Frank Spotniz on script duty, ensuring the project is in the safest of hands as its tricky premise and complex themes make the fraught transition from novel to (laptop) screen.

Set in a dystopian alternate history in which Nazi Germany triumphs in World War Two, with the help of Japan, the story picks up seventeen years later to find the US has been carved up between the two new superpowers; Germany taking the East Coast, Japan owning the West, and a lawless neutral zone being established in the Rocky Mountains to keep them apart.

The first thing to say about High Castle is that the set design is unashamedly glorious, its divided-US setting enabling director David Semel to compose some striking contrasts between the grubby, neon industrialism of Nazi-occupied New York and the Japanese-infused storybook vistas of San Fransisco. And it’s all shot with a slick, wispy noir tone that surprisingly compliments the charm and beauty of its period setting.

Aside from the obvious references to Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica and other sci-fi greats, from the pilot it seems like the show has been heavily influenced by The Americans. This is evident in a plot that is essentially an absorbing espionage thriller in which seemingly everyday people undertake the covert work of opposing countries on the brink of war.

The narrative thread that draws these various opposing sides together involves the creation of anti-fascist newsreels (a clever update on Dick’s book within a book device) by the mythologised man in the high castle, but this transpires to be nothing more than a high-concept MacGuffin that allows Spotniz to explore the effect losing a war has on the people left behind.

In the new world no one can be trusted to be who they claim, with the remaining pockets of resistance being infiltrated by Nazi spies and enemy operatives keeping their cards close to their chests. This idea of soldiers hiding in plain sight reflects the attitude of surviving Americans, many of whom appear outwardly supportive of the new regime while bitterly opposing it behind closed doors. Each person reacts differently to their changing circumstances, with some resigned to defeat and clinging to old hatred while others are determined to regain their freedom.

As if that’s not enough to recommend it, High Castle also has an intriguing game of political brinkmanship playing out between the two superpowers as Japan tries to determine if its territory is safe in the event of an ailing Hitler’s death.

Admittedly, there are some pacing issues during the third quarter, but the rest is as intense, compelling and inspired as anything you’re likely to see on the traditional gogglebox. It’s also brilliantly performed, Alexa Davalos especially doing great work in a role that is unique to the sci-fi genre in that her character, Juliana, is a strong woman who isn’t defined by her sexuality. Rufus Swell, too, impresses by making his ruthless SS Investigator convincingly menacing without veering into slippery caricature.

The series has already received a scorching approval rating from viewers, making it a near certainty that it will get the green light. And if the pilot is anything to go by – and considering Amazon’s rising reputation – The Man in the High Castle has all the potential of being sci-fi’s next big TV hit.

Click here to watch a clip from The Man in the High Castle

Cucumber; Banana – TV Review

Fifteen years after his seminal take on life in the Manchester gay scene, Queer as Folk, left our screens, Russell T Davis returned to Channel 4 last night with a new three-pronged project exploring the passions and pitfalls of 21st century gay life.

Davies has written all eight episodes of Cucumber (Channel 4), which tells the story of a gay man suffering a mid-life crisis just as his long-term partner decides to propose, and oversaw a team of upcoming young writers for E4’s anthology series Banana.

The interlocking shows are accompanied by 4oD’s Tofu, an online documentary series exploring modern sex in all its guises with YouTuber Benjamin Cook.

From the outset it’s clear that the five years spent tackling vengeful alien civilisations and time-travel paradoxes as Doctor Who showrunner have done nothing to dampen Davies’ relish for confronting the minutiae of real relationships, and his writing is as outrageous, revelatory and disarmingly human as ever here.

Cucumber stars a brilliantly cranky Vincent Franklin as Henry Best, a selfish, petulant 46-year-old who’s dissatisfied with the charming suburban life he’s cultivated with his long-suffering partner Lance (Cyril Nri). When Henry crudely rejects his impromptu marriage proposal, Lance decides to seek his jollies elsewhere, hooking up with a coked-up stranger he meets at a nightclub. The incident sparks a disastrous – a painfully comic – chain of events that ends with a half-naked Lance locked in the back of a police car while Henry walks barefoot through the streets of Manchester.

The fallout from the worst date night in human history thrusts Henry into an altogether different drama as he is forced to seek refuge with his 19-year-old colleague, and the angelic cafeteria worker who becomes the object of his affection, in E4’s companion series Banana.

From its familiar format of following a different character each episode to its irritatingly handsome cast of urbanised youths who live a life a drug-fuelled ecstasy and great sex in cool, spacious lofts that only exists on TV, Cucumber’s little sister shares a lot of the same DNA as Skins. Yet it also gets closer to representing the truth of what it’s like to be a young adult in the twentieth century, building a more nuanced, varied and, ultimately, more satisfying picture of modern day life than its stylistic cousin managed in seven series.

The first episode mostly concerned itself with Dean, a cheeky, fun-loving mail room assistant at Henry’s insurance firm, as he tries to find £400 to pay-off his possibly crooked landlord – when he’s not shagging the hunky fellas he finds on Grindr or showing off his “chastity belt” to all and sundry, that is. Fisayo Akinade plays Dean perfectly, underscoring his effervescent character with the naïveté and wide-eyed hopelessness of a young man thrust into the real world with no idea how to survive on his own.

The starkest and proudest difference these two shows have with Queer as Folk is that they really aren’t about homosexuality – they’re energised relationship dramas that just happen to involve gay characters. In a satisfying reflection of how gay life is now incorporated into the mainstream, Henry and Lance’s relationship is not especially different from that of any other couple and they experience the kind of problems to which almost everyone can relate.

Last night’s series opener, for example, depicted the familiar story of a relationship that has sterilised as middle age approaches. Henry and Lance may share a house together, but they live distant lives because they’ve never had sex. They pursue their own interests, lusting after younger men and passive-aggressively letting out their sexual frustration because they lack the intimacy to openly communicate.

Likewise, Dean’s story details just some of the issues affecting young adults starting out in the world. He’s broke and struggling to pay rent, working out how to balance an adventurous social life with his crappy job, and he’s still trying to cut-loose from the seemingly over-bearing eye of his protective parents.

In fact, Davies flat out refuses to make his casts’ sexuality an issue, refreshingly creating friendly, tolerant characters where other writers would try to create conflict. We see this in Henry’s neighbour, a cheerful young mother who helpfully suggests he get some thicker blinds because her daughter can see him masterbate through the window, and in the taxi despatch receptionist who is surprisingly titillated, rather than disgusted, by Henry’s graphically homoerotic fantasy involving Ryan Reynolds.

The closest we get to a suggestion of homophobia is when Dean tells the story of how his parents forcibly removed him from the family home when they discovered his sexuality; and even then it turns out to be just another of his attention-seeking fantasies – his real parents are actually gently accepting of his lifestyle and only hope that he finds a nice boy to settle down with.

All considered, the most telling statement about the status of equality raised by Cucumber and Banana is not to be found in the shows themselves but in the media speculation that surrounded them. Fifteen years on from Queer as Folk and we still consider a series that’s written by and about gay men as a rarity, and while Davies’s shows demonstrate how society has grown to accept the gay community to the point of banality, the fact that it’s still considered an original angle shows just how far television has to go before it catches up with the rest of the world. Because, as Lance so eloquently put it: “All the world’s a gay bar now, you know.”

Click here to watch Cucumber, Banana and Tofu on 4oD

The Top Seven Prematurely Cancelled TV Shows

The news, released earlier this week, that offbeat zombie-drama In The Flesh has been dumped by BBC Three will likely have made fans feel like their hearts are being devoured by a rabid PDS-sufferer such is their devotion to the show.

Over the course of its short two series Dominic Mitchell’s subtle study of isolation and acceptance, which told the story of a reanimated teenager returning to his local community post-rising, claimed numerous awards and critical recognition, and built a rabid cult following dedicated to ensuring the ultimate underdog-series’ survival (an online petition begging Netflix to save the show has already gained over 8,000 signatures).

Yet it was not enough to persuade BBC bosses to commission a third series, citing a need to make room for new dramas and emerging talent for giving the show the boot. And this got me thinking about how many other shows have been prematurely snuffed out.

Here are seven shows that ended before their time.

Twin Peaks

While many people will say the current golden age of television began with The Sopranos in 1999, those who do may want to look a little further back to 1991 and David Lynch’s surreal and offbeat American series Twin Peaks.

Following an investigation headed by oddball FBI agent Dale Cooper into the murder of a homecoming queen, Lynch’s seminal series explored the seedy layers of life lurking beneath the respectable veneer of a small town.

Unsettling and camp, dark and melodramatic, Twin Peaks was a truly unique piece of work that was years ahead of its time – as evidenced by the influence it has had on many modern dramas, such as Broadchurch and The Returned – and it’s no shock that the show became a success both nationally and internationally.

After a muddled second season, during which declining ratings prompted ABC to insists on revealing the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer, and the disappointing prequel film Fire Walk with Me both failed to find a satisfying conclusion to the story, Lynch announced late last year that a new season of nine episodes will air on Showtime in 2016.

Deadwood

Perhaps the meanest, sweariest, nastiest western ever to grace our screens, this dark and soupy HBO drama from David Milch is something of a lost televisual gem.

Set during the American gold rush, the series charted the evolution of Deadwood from an illegal settlement to something resembling a real society over three glorious seasons of anarchic liberty and potty-mouthed brilliance.

Fans are still bereft that the show was cancelled before a planned fourth season and plans to conclude the series with two special movies have so far come to nought, with star Ian McShane reiterating in 2009 that “Deadwood is dead”.

Utopia

Much like fellow Brit-series In The Flesh, this smart, day-glow conspiracy thriller from Dennis Kelly – the creative mind that also brought us the Matilda musical – never gained the viewing figures to match its critical popularity.

With its striking visuals and dark, tantalisingly mysterious plot about a group of misfits trying to thwart a global genocide, Utopia was a work of brilliant imagination and unlike anything else on TV.

Fans are still coming to terms with its cancellation, announced by Channel 4 in September following an admittedly lacklustre second series, but they may yet find solace in the HBO remake, which is fronted by filmmaker David Fincher and Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn.

Ripper Street

Far more than a half-baked Victorian CSI, this compelling police-procedural proved to be a mainstream hit for BBC One in 2012.

Ripper Street provided an excellent alternative to the typically soporific Sunday night programming with its gritty writing that brought London’s East End to vivid life and some engaging interplay between the central trio – Inspector Reid, Sergeant Drake and Captain Jackson, their initially fraught dealings triumphing into a witty bromance as the series and their characters developed.

An ill-conceived shift in time-slot preceded series two, forcing it up against ITV’s I’m a Celebrity…, and the show was eventually cancelled due to low viewing figures. Thankfully, Amazon Prime promptly stepped in to resurrect Ripper Street and its third series is currently airing to much-acclaim online.

Jericho

In what could be considered a precursor to The Walking Dead, Jericho was a post-apocalyptic action-drama that centred on the residents of its titular town in the aftermath of a nuclear attack on the US.

Often a powerfully emotive examination of how America balances security with its own principles, the show earned a lot a praise for its considerable tension and sterling cast – not least Lennie James who is excellent as intense and enigmatic government agent Richard Hawkins.

Initially cancelled after its first run because of poor ratings, the show’s determined following launched a successful fan-campaign to revive the series for a second seven-episode season only for it to be cancelled once again after that run.

Early plans for a feature film have yet to resurface, but the series still lives on in the form of a successful comic-book series.

Firefly

Although not as successful as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon’s follow-up Firefly has all the winning-elements of that supernatural-drama – the witty dialogue, quirky premises and dark exploration of human fallacy – and wraps them up in the offbeat world of a space western.

Despite being cancelled by Fox after only eleven episodes, the series has built a solid fan-base during its short run that, along with strong DVD sales, encouraged Universal to release a film based on the series (2005’s Serenity) and the Firefly franchise has since branched out into comics, board games and other media.

Pushing Daisies

You’ve got to give NBC credit for sticking with cult horror series Hannibal for a third season considering creator Bryan Fuller’s reputation for making prematurely cancelled shows.

Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls were both given short-shrift by impatient studio execs, but it’s the axing of fantasy-drama Pushing Daisies that most ires Fuller Fans.

Touted as a forensic fairytale, the series, about a pie maker who can bring dead things back to life, won critical praise and numerous awards (including seven Emmys) for its unusual, Tim Burton-esque style, quirky characters and fast-paced dialogue only for ABC to cancel the show just six episodes into its second season.

Rumours have since emerged of the series continuing as a film, a comic book or, most bizarrely, a Broadway musical without any ever coming to fruition. It looks like even Ned’s magic touch can’t bring this series back to life.

So what do you think? Do you agree with my choices or think there’s something I have missed? Let me know in the comments section below.

Ascension: This sci-fi “event series” is yet to make its mark

If there’s one thing TV viewers love more than a dystopian fantasy show right now it’s surely the good old “event series”. In fact, such is the current clamour for big-budgeted, easily digestible chunks of prestige drama, Sky have not one but two such shows ready to hit our screens this month. Fortitude, an epic drama set in the Arctic circle and boasting a stellar cast of big names, will land in a couple of weeks, but before that we have Ascension, a six-part sci-fi miniseries that takes place aboard a generation ship.

The premise is the highest of high concepts. Inspired by the real-life Project Orion that existed during the Kennedy administration, Ascension posits an alternate reality in which the US government, fearing the escalating Cold War will lead to the destruction of Earth, green-light the covert mission. 350 willing men, women and children are promptly rounded up and shot into deepest space on a century-long mission aboard the eponymous ship, which, we’re told, is taller than the Empire State building, that officials hope will deliver the human race to its new home among the stars.

There’s a wonderful whiff of classic space-age sci-fi about this show, with its sleek and bold sets and stylish 60s-era costume designs, and the series boasts some fascinating elements that, with some fine-tuning, have the makings of a great TV show.

Most of the action is set 51 years into the journey, where the first generation has died out and their descendants are coming to terms with their role as the forgotten middle children of the mission. “If you and I weren’t born on this ship, we could have accomplished great things,” the ship’s captain (bizarrely played by Cougar Town’s hapless Bobby Cobb) bemoans. His ship’s adolescent passengers share his disenchantment; they’re restless and frustrated, searching for a better sense of purpose, so when the body of one of their friends washes up on the artificial beach, the ship’s passengers begin to question the nature of their mission.

Ascension also takes a lot of hints from Battlestar Galactica, another space-set SyFy miniseries and a fine model on which to build upon. The series shares BSG’s claustrophobic setting and air of the supernatural – here, a young girl claims to have seen a mysterious figure on the ship that logic can’t account for – and the plot packs a similar range of romances, rivalries and political power games.

Essential to the latter is the excellent Tricia Helfer, who plays Cylon, a seductive femme fatale in the mould of Lady Macbeth who uses her position as head stewardess to learn the secrets of powerful men and isn’t above using her sexual assets to influence the people in charge.

Yet, even with so much going for it, the first two episodes have fallen terribly flat. Some of this can be put down to the typical early season wobbles – an over-reliance on exposition, an understandable tendency to prioritise cramming in the plot twists over character development – but mostly it seems showrunner Philip Levens doesn’t know what to do with the story.

Too much time is spent on a listless investigation into the murder of a young woman and the myriad romantic trysts that are always going on, and these subplots have an over-dramatised, soapy tone ill-fitting of the sci-fi genre and they come at the expense of exploring any of the wide-ranging social issues posed by the brilliant premise.

Ascension is, in essence, a giant time-capsule where its inhabitants are permanently frozen in 1963, prompting the question of what might happen when a group of people develop a new society isolated from outside influences. Yet Levens dodges tackling such weighty themes by creating a world that looks a lot like our own.

There are vague mutterings of a class war brewing between the upper and lower decks, but equally there are stories of characters rising rapidly through the ranks; women may still work as sexy stewardesses but they also hold prominent scientific and administrative positions; and racial tensions are apparently a thing of the past with officer Aaron Gault easily rising up the decks and class system. Perhaps Levens is suggesting that social progress is inevitable, but to see that change take place in a stifling environment would surely be more exciting than finding out who killed an unknown woman on a fake beach?

The first two episodes also suffer from a lack of urgency and tension – though maybe that’s just an insanely meta reference to the characters suffocating ennui – with no enemies of note or any kind of immediate threat to the mission to spark the plot into life. It also doesn’t help that we are periodically pulled back to present day Earth, a move that often breaks the claustrophobia of life on board the ship.

Ascension is a show rife with potential, with a killer premise and some intriguing character dynamics in play, but one that doesn’t yet know what to do with itself. A twist at the end of the first night has cast the mission in a tantalising new light and that’s certainly an argument for allowing the story to grow – let’s not forget that The 100 developed into a brilliantly savage beast during its first run – but Levens needs to work fast if he’s going to turn Ascension into the bold and challenging show it could become. That’s the problem with “event series”, you see, there’s very little time to make your mark.

Click here to watch the trailer for Ascension

Cyberbully – TV Review

I’m not entirely sure why Channel 4 billed Cyberbully as a factual programme. Presumably it’s because everything that unfolds is in some way based on the real-life experiences of victims of online abuse. The only problem with that is, aside from the depiction of teenagers’ online habits – which is surprisingly on point, nothing about this feature-length “event film” feels realistic. Its interpretation of cyberbullying takes the form of heavy-handed moral allegory and the plot is crucially short of insightful revelations.

It’s in no way a lost cause, however, provided you view Cyberbully not as the hard-hitting moral fable the makers intended, but as a disturbing paranoia-thriller that takes the bleak fate-of-technology musings of Black Mirror and infuses them with the spine-chilling thrills and creepy twists of a horror movie to create an intense 80-minutes of brilliant, unsettling drama.

Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams is Casey, a typical teenager who, like most of the ‘yoof’ today, spends most of her life online. Hauled up in her bedroom for the show’s entire duration, Casey fills her time impulsively hacking her ex’s Twitter account and mocking fashion bloggers with a string of derisory tweets and videos posted under an alias to protect her anonymity. But as countless recent news stories have made us all too aware, anonymity is a fleeting concept in the grim and savage world of the internet and Casey quickly comes to regret her transgressions when her online identity comes under attack from a faceless suicide troll.

Williams is perfectly cast as Casey, effortlessly holding our attention in a virtually solo performance and showcasing impressive range with a character that is by turns impatient, strong-willed, pithy, vulnerable and just about everything you’d expect a 17-year-old girl to be. It of course helps that her role is superbly written, director and writer Ben Chanan cleverly avoiding painting Casey as entirely innocent.

Instead, Williams walks a slippery tight-rope between victim and perpetrator, first provoking our sympathies when her anxiety disorder is cruelly exposed by a jilted ex and then enraging us with the revelation that her nasty mocking of a fellow pupil who likes to post karaoke videos online has sparked a vicious and relentless campaign of abuse that ends with the poor wannabe-popstar taking her own life.

This story beat is as close as Cyberbully gets to offering troubling insight into the world of online abuse, Casey’s shameful act laying bare how a seemingly meaningless message typed from behind the safety of a computer screen can spiral out of control with dark, twisted consequences. Otherwise, this film doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know about the mindset of bullies. Apparently they prey on the isolated and vulnerable to mask their own insecurities and are really just scared of being alone. Who knew?

It’s the same story with the film’s conclusion, which piles on a thick layer of preachy moral philosophising with the hackneyed notion that an abuser is powerless if you refuse to give him attention – a message that fails to address the way social media intrudes on every aspect of our lives. How do you walk away when your online history follows you everywhere?

The makers of Cyberbully may not encourage us to take a closer look at the monster within and reconsider our online habits as intended, but they have nevertheless crafted a sickeningly tense, frightening and smartly original techno-thriller that will at the very least convince viewers to keep a wary eye trained on their webcams. You never know who might be watching, after all.

Click here to watch Cyberbully on 4oD