All posts tagged dystopian

Taking a Look into the Black Mirror

Published January 9, 2015 by vfdpixie


Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3, 2011-2014, originally aired on Channel 4)

A couple of my friends told me about Black Mirror, a British T.V. series that takes the future and makes it shiny, rich with technology and painfully dark.  Of course, they thought it would be right up my alley because I love the Brits and anything weird; and although it started in 2011, us North Americans (or maybe just little ol’ me) are just catching wind of it now on Netflix.  After binge watching all the episodes and loving each sordid take on pieces of humanity neatly arranged, duplicated or dulled by advanced gadgetry, I have a new appreciation for Luddites and a simpler life.

Three seasons in, series creator and writer Charlie Brooker aimed to unsettle the viewer and leave happy resolutions to his stories in the dust.  Using classic shows like The Twilight Zone and The Night Gallery as inspirations, Brooker wanted to devastate the audience, little by little :

From the writing to casting well-known and diverse British actors in out-of-the-box roles, he did an outstanding job. There were some episodes that were stronger that others, but I want to highlight my favourites.

The Entire History of You, episode 3 of Season 1, was extremely relatable and begs the question of whether ignorance really is bliss.  Rather than rely on a natural memory, most of the population has a “grain” implant, a tiny device that lives under the skin recording every moment of your life.  An insecure lawyer (Toby Kebbell from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) whose career and relationship is up in the air decides that his grain will help reveal the truth.  He soon tortures himself with the destructive use of memory recalled at the flick of a switch. The scenarios played out in his marriage were unsettling and realistic.  I can see most people using their implant to win an argument, or obsess and re-examine every second, except this time with painfully crystal clarity, crushing their hearts in the heaviness of life’s minutiae.  There are reports that Robert Downey Jr. has bought the rights to make this a full-length film.  Although the original writer Jesse Armstrong is behind the film script, I’m not hopeful (ugh!).

 Kebbell as Liam the lawyer looking into his past

Kebbell as Liam the lawyer looking into his past



Be Right Back, the first episode from Season 2, was full of disturbing melancholy.  Martha (Agent Carter‘s Hayley Atwell) is grieving the loss of her husband Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), who was always on social media.  She is encouraged by a friend to use his social media footprint in order to keep her husband’s memory alive.  The widow goes from flat-out refusal to rising degrees of desperation in order to have him back.  It is a cautionary tale that covers two issues:  the first is the way we might grieve in the future and the lengths we may go to keep our loved ones as more than just a faded memory; the second puts our online presence in the spotlight and makes you wonder how much of yourself should put out into cyberspace and how much of it might take on a life of its own.

Hayley Atwell as Martha in Be Right Back

Hayley Atwell as Martha in Be Right Back



The second episode from the same season jangled the nerves.  White Bear opens with a woman (Being Human‘s Lenora Crichlow) who awakens to an empty house and a strange symbol on all the television sets.  When she emerges outside, there are shadowy figures in windows filming her with their smartphones, and eventually chase her through the neighbourhood, not uttering a word in reply to her pleas for help.  She has no memory of who she is or where she comes from, and once a balaclava-clad gunman drives up with her in his crosshairs, she is in for the fight of her life.  This was a brilliant take on the spectator culture we are so overrun with these days.  The community here swirls with apathy, perverse enjoyment and judgement.  I really liked the twisted ending, and it puts a microscopic lens on a specific aspect of social media culture that I personally loathe.

On the run in White Bear

On the run in White Bear



Season 3’s only episode, White Christmas, brings us a winding tale of that pesky spectator issue, murder and heartbreak that was really inventive.  Matt (Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm) is a chatty house mate to Joe (Rafe Spall), a sullen man of few words.  They are together for Christmas dinner, and at Matt’s cajoling, they each tell their stories of why they are in a cabin on a wintry Christmas day.  It was great to see Hamm shed his Don Draper shadow to branch out into sci-fi again.  This episode really made me think of the Outer Limits or Twilight Zone, but with a bleaker outlook for a morally numb 21st century.

Hamm baring his soul in White Christmas

Hamm baring his soul in White Christmas



Other episodes of note were The National Anthem from Season 1.  A satirical story of a British Prime Minister (played brilliantly by Penny Dreadful‘s Rory Kinnear) that has to copulate with a pig in order to save a princess was so realistically disturbing it made me feel ill instead of wanting to laugh, although it did shed light on the absurdity of political backroom negotiations and viral public opinion.  I preferred this episode to The Waldo Moment from Season 2 that broached a similar subject, this one highlighting the popularity of a cartoon bear running for office because of social media.

Disbelief to save a life in The National Anthem

Disbelief to save a life in The National Anthem


Another Season 1 episode, Fifteen Million Merits starring Daniel Kaluuya, made my list as well.  I first saw this young actor in the now defunct British series The Fades, as the hysterically funny best friend Mac, and he has since showcased his talent in films like Kick-Ass 2. This time, we are taken to a world where daily cycling creates power and earns riders merits which they can spend on various pastimes, like video games or porn.  You can also use them to enter a reality talent competition, which Bing (Kaluuya) does, but not for himself.  He decides to help Abi (Jessica Brown-Findlay), a girl he has a crush on, but things take a turn for the worse.  I enjoyed Kaluuya’s performance as the endearing Bing and this take on fame, the working class, image and literally selling out in the future.

Kaluuya and Brown-Findlay in Fifteen Million Merits

Kaluuya and Brown-Findlay in Fifteen Million Merits

I really loved the innovations that were presented in all the episodes, and kudos to the designers who created advanced but believable technology that seems to be right around the corner for us all.  Each story blended the human element and the artificial with a brilliant ease that made each scenario all the more worrying.  How much do we rely on technology?  How often do we expect a smart phone, tablet, or laptop to connect us to a virtual world that seems easier to navigate?  Is it easier, or does it just stress the animals in their caged realities?  Brookner and the Black Mirror team did a great job bringing up these questions with tales of insidious science, so-called advancement and fear…welcome to a frighteningly real future…





Snowpiercer Serves Up Some Kick-Ass Express

Published July 20, 2014 by vfdpixie


Snowpiercer (2013, 2 hrs 6 mins)

Trains have been an interesting setting for horror and sci-fi.  An enclosed space, no control over where you stop, and limited escape routes gives you a lot of room for terror and suspense.  With Horror Express, we found zombies, aliens, a Rasputin look-alike, a poodle and Telly Savalas, speeding through the Russian winter on the Trans-Siberian Express.  Then there was The Midnight Meat Train that provided us with a murderous slice and dice ride on the late night subway.  But what if you are 17 odd years in the future, and due to a botched effort to stop global warming that makes the earth a frozen, uninhabitable iceblock, your only salvation is to be crammed onto a high-speed train that circles the globe endlessly for the rest of your life?  And what if instead of living in luxury at the front of the train, with a pool, sauna and nightclub, you end up at the back of said train where it ain’t so pretty?  This premise brings us Snowpiercer, a dystopian Wizard of Oz from Hell taken from a French graphic novel called Transperceneige by Jacques Lob.  This is a story of a snaking and disturbing microcosm where society has actually gotten worse as limited space and supplies determine who gets what and lives where on this train; a place where the underdog claws and crawls to what they hope is a chance at equality.

Curtis (Chris Evans) is a back of the train dweller, and ready to revolt.  Supported by Edgar (Jamie Bell), Tanya (Octavia Spencer), Gilliam (John Hurt), and his fellow impoverished car-mates, they tire of eating gelatinous blocks of, er, protein, deplorable living conditions and gulag treatment by a military force and Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton).  Their goal is to make it to the front of the train in order to confront resident puppet master Mr. Wilford (Ed Harris), the creator of the “Sacred Engine” that moves them in an eternal circle. In order to execute their plan, they must release a prisoner, Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song), the drug addicted security specialist who created the prison-like locks on the train car gates, hoping that he will help their cause.

I didn’t know what to expect with this story, but I liked this first English language film for Korean director Bong Joon-ho, who brought us one of my favourite monster movies, The Host (and for all you Oldboy, Thirst, and Stoker fans out there, one of the producers of this film is none other than legendary director Park Chan-wook).  The film was weird and visually enticing, keeping the graphic novel feel as the characters moved through the train and encountered different aspects of life encapsulated in the train cars.  The performances were pretty good too.  Chris Evans really surprised me with his range as he tapped into the anger, outrage and shame that his character dealt with.  He is proving that he’s not just a pretty face.  Octavia Spencer delivered as the determined mother looking for her child, and Tilda Swinton can do no wrong in my eyes.  She slayed as the toothy, ruthless Minister Mason, and I also enjoyed the pyjama-clad Ed Harris as the mysterious, Malthusian Mr. Wilford.  Bong also throws in a dash of comedy as he is known to do.  Just trust me on this one and watch for the drug addled raver scene.  I have to commend the costume and set design too, as well as the close quarters fight sequences.  The axe-wielding balaclava clad security unit fight, in the dark no less, has to be seen.

There was a kerfuffle/rumor about the release of this film and what version viewers would see due to some controversy caused by the Weinstein camp, but many articles on the web have reassured that the final cut is the one Bong had approved.  I don’t think it got a wide release, but it is available on demand and currently playing at The TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre here in Toronto.  So check it out if you are in the mood for a different story, some great fights, a touch of black comedy, and a serving of long pig.  Better yet, make it a triple feature, starting with Horror Express, The Midnight Meat Train and Snowpiercer. It’ll be a one-way, sci-fi/horror ticket to a fun Saturday night!

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