For my retro reviews I like to broaden out what types of films I choose to review. Some are old classics that I want to write down my take on and some are complete unknowns. And since I did the short film Qalupalik, I’ve been wanting to branch out into different sorts of films. So for this one, I chose a television film. I introduce to you, Cyberbully.
Cyberbully star’s Maisie Williams, Elle Purnell and Wilson Haagens and is written and directed by Ben Channen. The film follows teenager Casey (Williams) who is tormented by an anonymous culprit online.
Television films always get a bad rap. There is an idea that the word “television” means that it’s cheaply made and isn’t worth your time. It’s not always true, there have been several great “made for TV” films. Studio Ghibli, the guys behind Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro made Ocean Waves for television and that’s my favourite Ghibli creation. But anyway, back to Cyberbully.
I did mainly choose to watch this film because of Maisie Williams. She’s been on a roll since her breakout roll in Game Of Thrones and her performance in last year’s The Falling, a British horror film was nominated for a Clemwood Award. Here in Cyberbully she shows her tremendous range as an actress. At the start she’s carefree and happy, talking to her friend’s like a typical teenager, but soon descends into worry and fearfulness over the messages that the anonymous hacker is sending her. The last ten to fifteen minutes, where Williams breaks down into tears is a extremely effective stab at high traumatising drama and is reason enough to give Cyberbully a watch.
The film is done in real time, which is not a very well explored creative choice. The most well known films to use real time are Hitchcock’s Rope and the Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda (remade as Silent House in America). The real time adds to the sense of immediacy and there are several long takes that Williams takes in her stride. The whole film is set in Casey’s bedroom and for the majority of the film it is just her and her laptop.
While the film’s title evokes ideas of teenage trolls and online bullying, the film instead goes for a more ghostly approach. It reminded me of last year’s Unfriended (although Cyberbully did come out before it) but it works a lot better here. Unfriended had small moments of downtime but mainly relied on jump scares. Cyberbully has a jump scare, which doesn’t really fit, but the rest of the tension/terror is built up through the actions of the anonymous hacker and Casey stooping to his level. It feels like something that Hitchcock would have made if he knew what laptops and the internet were.
The script was written by the director Ben Channen and David Lobatto and to give it sense of authenticity Channen asked both his own daughter and Williams to read through it and take out anything that felt fake. This does mean that the early part of the film where Casey is talking to her friend Meg sounds believable, similar to The Spectacular Now. The rest of the story has many twists and turns over who the anonymous hacker is, and while some moments feel predictable (a moment about someone else who Casey was in contact with is signposted early on), when it looks like the film will fall flat with a reveal it pulls the rug out from the audience and turn’s the story on its head.
Cyberbully is an incredibly taut and on edge thriller. Cyber-based suicides are an all too common story nowadays, and Cyberbully cuts right to the problem with online hate. It’s very easy to find, so if it sounds like something that you would enjoy, then Cyberbully get’s my recommendation.
Score: 9/10 Tense and topical, a very good film.