After last episode’s feel good love story where better to go next than a Woman vs. Machine survival flick all shot in glorious black and white.
So much of what makes Metalhead tick is thanks to its striking and downright brutal visual style. Set against the gloomy yet devastatingly beautiful backdrop of the Scottish moors, Metalhead goes all on its black and white aesthetic. This thrilling piece of genre television is directed by David Slade who has previously worked on American Gods among other things.
The episode kicks off with a simple mystery. A group of rough and ready survivors are on their way to pick something up. Little else is given in terms of exposition or context but Metalhead is made all the more thrilling as a result. What exactly are they risking their lives for and against what? the questions come thick and fast in the opening minutes which quickly build up the tension and boil over into a fully fledged chase scene.
Earnest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea came to mind whilst watching the protagonist outwit and struggle to escape her robo-hound pursuer. The tiny terminators revealed early on are cold, relentless but oddly animalistic in their methods. The runtime clocks in at just over 40 minutes, all of which is stretched to the absolute limits in its portrayal of a human trying to survive in a harsh post-apocalyptic environment.
This is also one of the goriest episodes the show has offered yet; the black and white doing little to hide the bloodshed and brain pulp on show. Metalhead’s world is cold, dead and unforgiving, which makes it all the more compelling as a result.
The main protagonist evokes hints of Ripley and Sarah Connor as she fights desperately, slicing shrapnel from her skin and wiping blood from her eyes. Metalhead doesn’t give much away, nor does it need to. Humans are on the run, robotic bloodhounds are hunting them down.
I’ve always enjoyed the twists which feature in almost every Black Mirror episode so far but to be honest it is incredibly refreshing to see the show produce such a straightforward thriller. That isn’t to say there isn’t care in building out the piece however. The cybernetic dog is incredibly reminiscent of the type which have been popping up all over the internet as part of army prototypes. These nasty little devices can hack anything and disconnect limbs at will.
This human vs. machine dynamic is explored in a variety of ways. One scene sees Bella hiding up a tree to escape her pursuer. She remarks on how the drone will be waiting a long time before she inevitably falls down. Upon this remark, said drone merely enters into a powered down state, making Bella seem all the more outgunned and fallible.
It’s through human ingenuity that she perseveres though, using anything at her disposal to get the upper hand. The episode culminates in a scene which is pure Hitchcock, knife-wielding killer and all. One scene which stood out for me was one in which Bella is scanning her environment for traces of the drone. The framing and camera angle are exactly the same as when the robot is scanning for her. Quickly though she is brought out of it by that all-too human of weaknesses, pain. It’s a wonderful way to quickly show just how woefully outmatched she is, yet she struggles through nonetheless.
The art direction is simple yet effective. The drone is sleek, small and shiny but still manages to be menacing. The way it calmly calculates, moves and executes its targets is incredibly unnerving and just gores to highlight the inherent lack of remorse or hesitation that a killing machine exercises.
There’s little hope to be found here but the answer to “what’s in the box?” does at least go to show the best parts of human nature and offers up a reason why we should indeed survive an event like this. There are certainly more cerebral episodes of the show to watch but in terms of pure adrenaline and thrill, Metalhead is wholly captivating and engrossing throughout.
Verdict – 8 Out of 10