Who let the killer robot dogs out? Black Mirror delivers a simple tale of survival…
Black Mirror usually trades in high-concepts, but for ‘Metalhead’ the aim is clearly to deliver something as simple and primal as possible. Set in an unexplained post-apocalyptic wasteland, Bella (Maxine Peake) is attempting to get some much-needed supplies* when she is hunted down by robot dog-like drones.
And that’s pretty much it. The result is something like The Road crossed with The Terminator. Just with a four-legged Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because of that I imagine this will go down as the most divisive episode of the series. Personally, while I can understand the appeal of such a classic narrative template, I do expect a bit more from Black Mirror.
For instance, in an earlier draft, Brooker had the dogs remote controlled by human operatives. Personally, I wish this element had been left in as it would have opened interesting themes of voyeurism and how violent people can be if they aren’t staring people in the face. As it is, ‘Metalhead’ is a fairly straightforward “robots hunting humans” sci-fi plot of the kind that Black Mirror usually stays away from.
Whatever my thoughts on the script, though, ‘Metalhead’ is certainly exceptionally well directed. The decision to film it in monochrome is a canny one as it increases the bleak, foreboding tone of the piece. Also kudos goes to the music from Krzysztof Penderecki which effectively harks back to the classic Hitchcockian scores of Bernard Hermann. In fact, I’ll take a moment to praise the overall sound design of the series. Going to the effort of getting a new composer in every episode really helps add to the individuality of each installment.
Likewise, Peake gives a compelling, visceral performance as the perpetually terrified Bella. The dogs themselves were no doubt CGI creations, so it must have been difficult to summon up pure terror without acting opposite anything. As for the villain of the piece, the dogs are perhaps so chilling because the are actually so plausible at this point: they’re a very close match to the drones developed by Boston Dynamics.
Overall, ‘Metalhead’ excels at what it aims to do, with terrific direction, acting and score. However, it’s just the standards of Black Mirror are so high I expect more than just an, admittedly very sophisticated and stylish, survival/chase story.
*The reveal that this fatal mission was all for a teddy bear to give to Bella’s sick nephew was a nice touch. In a relentlessly grim episode, this moment offered something softer and kinder, even if it was totally fruitless.
Cameos And Callbacks:
- While the main character is searching for car keys in the kitchen, a post card for San Junipero can be seen sitting on the counter. This is the only explicit callback to a previous episode I could find.
- It’s not confirmed, but it’s my personal theory that this post-apocalyptic wasteland is a result of the human culling seen in ‘Men Against Fire.’ In that episode, they used brainwashed soldiers but you can imagine that they found a more efficient way of doing it with these robotic dogs.