By Peter Ede (Reel Reviews, Bexhill-On-Sea)
I recently witnessed a one off drama that aired on 15th January 2015, which is fairly recent. However, I felt that I just had to do a review on it due to the featuring of social issues and the concerns different generations have on social media. Cyberbully took a different approach with its narrative and showed the victim of the film as the actual bully in certain situations which was an ingenious use of direction. It took a similar style to a Danny Boyle film where the film is focused on a certain scene for the full length, such as Buried or 127 Hours. In this case, it was a bedroom belonging to a young teenager whilst developing similar styles from the film Phone Booth, except this is for the digital world.
It raised a public statement about how easy it is to effect people through the use of websites such as sarcastic videos and mocking statuses along with the “don’t talk to strangers” aspect. It was shot to make the audience alternate positions of being in the eyes of the teenager but also in the eyes of the computer screen which links to the mysterious structure that we feel involved in. In this film, a young teenager, Casey, lives her life on social media. However, when a hacker gets into her computer and threatens to post explicit content of her, she must do whatever he says whilst trying to outwit the hacker.
Considering the film was always based in her bedroom, choosing a scene can be difficult as it is all technically a scene. However, the hacker showing Casey’s own personality and belittling her supposed thought of being the victim changed the way she saw things. The reason Casey gets annoyed most of the time is her knowledge of him being right whilst portraying that “life is unfair” attitude, which is synonymous with teenagers. This cleverly distinguishes the difference between her and the hacker, he is supposedly an adult and she is a child. In this part of the film, the hacker is the representation of danger when it comes to bullying, he acts as a realist and reveals the harsh truth to Casey whilst maintaining the parental figure, something we later find out Casey has little of in her life, “you were the first troll she received; you started it.”
The audience gets a true understanding of the victim’s perspective which is mirrored in the hacker showing the bad side to Casey’s actions, this scene acts as him being a narrator of Casey’s bullying whilst constantly showing proof on her computer that words can hurt, which is ironically part of his plan to make her see things clearly and kept the sense of fear in this scene, proving he has all the power “you must continue watching…”, an attribute commonly thought by bullies. A very clever and twisting scene.
As the film progressed, I noticed that Casey had noticeable features that a bully would tease her on. This consisted of her pills she takes for depression, her appearance and her “gossip” persona. She sees the outcome to her pranks as having high levels of hilarity whilst it causes low levels of self-esteem for other people, which her character alternates between realising the more she thinks she learns about the hacker, but he is always ahead of her. Her character is designed and directed to match a common teenager; phone in one hand, Twitter open on the laptop and chatting to friends so it’s surprising when her adult capabilities come back to haunt her, evidently shown in the hacker. She carried out the “I think I know everything” point of view which would not only respond well to the niche audience of teenagers, but also to parents as they can relate through experience. Casey is the portrayal of a stereotypical bully whilst expressing the reasons why they do it, which most of the time is jealousy, “I have always been a little jealous of you…” and I feel that the audiences would respond well through realising the damage words can do.
Staying in one scene can be very hard to do as a whole film due to the audience wanting variety in modern day films along with fast paced scenes, However, Cyberbully challenged modern day expectations through always staying in the bedroom for the whole film. The laptop became a person through the cinematography but was completely unknown to the audience and Casey thus making us just as confused and terrified as she is. Detailed close up shots revealed the different expressions as Casey realised what she had done to people, she turned from an “it’s only a laugh” character to the “this just got serious” character which the camera had to capture to show that she definitely converted her thoughts to the audience and did so very well.
I admired the inspirational shot of Casey through the webcam but still having the website templates in front of her, this made us the hacker and made us feel like the interrogator in this film, adding to the sense of not knowing what he is capable of but we have to continue watching to find out. Cleverly filmed and a great effort in bringing back different techniques.
Cyberbully wasn’t just a thriller but an eye opener to the dangers of social media. It took a different approach in showing the bully as the main character whilst the victims as the outcome of their actions, yet we don’t realise this until halfway through, “you think you’re the victim?” Casey and the laptop being the only two aspects to this film draws a sense of discomfort to the audience as it opposed structured narratives as we’re usually aware of what the characters are like as the film goes on but in this film, we have his hacking abilities and a Stephen Hawking voice to base his character on, leaving it up to the imagination which can sometimes be worse.
The cinematography played a drastic part in conveying facial expressions and a mysterious atmosphere whilst contributing to the presentation of social issues of bullying. A surprisingly thrilling film. I would call it the digital version of When A Stranger Calls.