Cyberbully: A claustrophobic thriller for the internet age
Ben Chanan and Davud Lobatto just wrote down my worst nightmare as a teenager and, like a masochist, I watched it.
I sat down last night to enjoy Cyberbully, a drama starring Game of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams as protagonist Casey Jacobs. I’m a fan of Arya Stark and I know a bit about cyberbullying – it sounded like a decent evening in.
As the opening credits rolled up, we saw a moody teenager listening to loud music in her room after school. For a moment I was faintly nostalgic, and then I was terrified.
Cyberbully‘s fast-paced, intense atmosphere begins almost immediately. Perhaps had the suggestion not been there in the title, I would have innocently dismissed Casey’s Spotify repeatedly changing song in the background, much like Casey did.
She skypes her best friend Megan and the two girls plot revenge against Casey’s ex-boyfriend by enlisting a fellow student to hack his twitter account. It’s a mistake that will haunt her.
The hacker is not a fellow student at all, but an impersonator who has been watching Casey’s every move through her laptop webcam and smartphone, apparently for some time. It’s important to mention here that this is an unlikely form of cyberbullying, but then this is not really intended to inform. It’s meant to scare by feeding on your paranoia, and boy does it succeed.
But then, Casey’s not the victim, the anonymous stalker laughs, through a creepy electronic voice he blasts through Casey’s speakers as he takes over her laptop. She is the perpetrator. As punishment for trolling other girls in the past, Casey is subject to the torment of an anonymous anti-bullying vigilante who uses the threat of releasing her nude pictures to get her to follow his harrowing instructions.
What follows is clumsily preachy, but nonetheless effective. Casey is forced to confront her actions as an online troll and take responsibility for the hurt she has caused others. She admits she was acting out of jealousy. She blasts out a load of heavy-handed justifications for her actions.
The segment where Casey was forced to watched one victim’s final online video – painfully slow, speechless and set to a chilling rendition of Mad World, had me very frightened of what the ending was going to reveal. The frustratingly-timed ad break that followed was both rage-inducing and merciful, allowing me to get a cup of camomile tea and rock back and forth a few times sobbing.
Cyberbully was wholly engrossing and more often than not had my heart pounding like it was going to jump right out of my chest (probably to hide behind the sofa). I felt fear like I didn’t know I could feel in front of a television screen. Perhaps it was my lack of comprehension as to what this show would actually be about on my casual Thursday night, perhaps it was how close it hit home, or perhaps it was Maisie Williams’ fantastic portrayal of terror.
Maisie Williams is ridiculously good. Her character Casey is a well-rounded teenager, equal parts naive, nasty and vulnerable. I suspect there are very few young actresses able to command an audience’s attention alone in one room for an entire hour, but she carries the whole show on her shoulders and what an amazing achievement it is.
As Casey closed her laptop screen and retreated to her real-world life, I was genuinely scared to go up to bed, so I turned over the channel and spent an hour watching mundane arguments on MTV’s Ex on the Beach instead.
Cyberbully is available to watch now on 40D. Be prepared.