Director: Ben Chanan
Starring: Maisie Williams, Ella Purnell, Haruka Abe, Jake Davies, Daisy Waterstone, Wilson Haagens, Anthony Shuster
Runtime: 62 minutes
Happy Tuesday All,
I recently stumbled upon a movie about bullying online. Being a big Game of Thrones fan, I was drawn to it when I saw that it starred Arya Stark herself, Maisie Williams, in the lead role. As we all know, the internet is an invaluable resource, filled with seemingly infinite possibilities, and introduces us to a wealth of information. But it also has dark sides to it, and it’s important for us, especially younger users, to be aware of the dangers it can pose if we are not careful.
One of the most contentious aspects of the internet in recent times is the sharp rise of cyber bullying amongst (primarily, but not limited to) teenagers. It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, bullying took place mostly in the playground. This was still terrible, but at least it was confined to a small circle of people. But with the advent of mobile devices and social media sites, bullying has grown more sinister, with people able to publicly ridicule and shame a person in a matter of seconds by posting something online for everyone to see, doing irrevocable damage in the process. Now more than ever, it is important to educate young people on the dangers of the internet and the effect their actions can have on people online. So in that respect, I think every parent or teacher who is looking to educate their children/students on these subjects should consider showing them Cyberbully.
“If you try to shut down, if you try to switch off the router, if you leave the room…the pictures go online”.
Above are the terrifying words heard by Casey Jacobs (Maisie Williams), the quintessential teenage girl who is the protagonist of our story, written and directed by Ben Chanan. Cyberbully plays out in real-time and takes place entirely in Casey’s bedroom, who like pretty much every teenager nowadays, lives her life out online. During a Skype chat with her best friend Megan (Ella Purnell), Casey discovers a cruel Twitter comment by her ex-boyfriend Nathan, which publicly exposes her use of anti-depressants.
After ending her chat with Megan, Casey receives an instant message, ostensibly from her friend Alex (Jake Davies), offering to help her hack into Nathan’s account and post a revenge comment. Casey takes the offer, but then becomes suspicious of the language used in the messages from Alex, before realising to her horror that she is dealing with an anonymous hacker, who proclaims to help victims of cyber bullying. Suddenly scared, Casey endeavours to end the chat. But the hacker is not satisfied, and ultimately takes control of Casey’s computer and threatens to release nude photos of her online if she leaves their chat, her room, or asks for help. What follows is a tension filled cat and mouse game, as we learn some of the dark secrets Casey would rather keep hidden.
The film is spearheaded by an excellent performance from Maisie Williams. It’s easy to see why she is such a fan favourite on Game of Thrones. Her performance evokes in us a range of emotions for Casey, from worry to pity and at times contempt, leaving us contemplating whether Casey is the victim here, or indeed a perpetrator. The film is testament to her talent in that she is able to be consistently compelling and carry the film, despite being literally the only character on-screen, aside from a couple of appearances by her friends. It’s pitch perfect casting, largely due to the fact that Williams was able to pour her own experiences into her portrayal of Casey, making it all the more relatable.
Haruka Abe as Jennifer Li also deserves to be commended. She doesn’t appear often, but when she does, her performance as a girl who strives to be upbeat and positive in the face of consistent online abuse really tugs at the heart-strings. Anyone who has experienced any form of bullying will empathise with her, and the end result of her torment is harrowing, but unfortunately all to realistic.
The films pacing and setting contribute excellently to the immersion of the audience. Having the story play out in a small, cramped bedroom in real-time was an excellent decision as it creates a definite tension, as does the fact we cannot see the person tormenting Casey, leading us to speculate as to who it could be. The film does stray from delivering its central message by employing some techniques (Faustian Pacts and tests of morality) that make the outcome kind of predictable and sees the film slip into horror genre territory slightly.
But ultimately it’s the films message that is the standout aspect of this movie. It strives to make you think about who you are interacting with online, and to comprehend how words that take seconds to write can lead to a world of pain to the person you’re directing them at. And most powerfully of all, the film shows that an internet bully is only as powerful as you let them be by asking: “What are you when I stop responding to you?…Nothing”.
I really do think something like this should be compulsory viewing in schools the world over to help towards educating young people about cyber bullying and internet safety. If you want to check out Cyberbully, you can catch it on Channel 4’s catch-up service, All4. You can also get a copy of it on DVD here if you like.
Check out the trailer below, and feel free to drop back and leave a comment on what you thought of the movie. Have a great day!