Cyberbully (2015), directed by Ben Chanan and written by Chanan and David Lobatto, explores the phenomenon of cyberbullying. At its heart, it is a morality tale. It seeks to inform young people that the internet only has as much power as they let it. It’s a difficult moral to tackle because of how pervasive the ‘net is these days, and it would have been very easy for Cyberbully (2015) to appear preachy, or just bad, if the creative team and cast weren’t immensely talented and respectful to the subject matter.
Luckily, that’s not the case, and Cyberbully (2015) is an amazing piece of television.
Starring as Casey, Maisie Williams – best known for her role as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones (2011) – is an absolute tour de force in Cyberbully (2015). Arguably the only character in the piece, she plays the role with utmost sincerity and an almost stern authority. In interviews, Williams has admitted that she and the creative team has used her own experiences, as well as other real life cases of cyber-bullying, in the creation of the story and the character of Casey, and it’s very apparent that Williams is channeling her own feelings when playing the role. Because of that, we are treated to a very powerful and moving performance.
One interesting twist in the narrative was when it was revealed that Casey has as much claim to being the titular cyberbully as the person who has hacked her computer. It created a very intense paradox wherein we, the audience, became aware of the fact that this character, who we had been supporting emotionally up until this point, was arguably just as guilty as her bully. It added an extra dimension to an already brilliant performance when we suddenly became aware of how easy it is for a person, a normal person, to be just as guilty as the hacker that has targeted her.
In term of Cyberbully’s (2015) cinematography, I was impressed. Filming in one small room for an entire piece, as they did here, makes it very difficult to keep interest, especially when the character is static, but Ben Chanan manages to use the room which comprises the set masterfully. One particularly interesting angle, which Cyberbully (2015) utilized, was when we are facing Casey from the point of view of her laptop. Not only is it a clever way of utilizing space, but it also makes us uncomfortable by showing the viewpoint of the hacker. Not only do we have to see her as the suffering victim, but we also have to suffer from seeing the events from the cyberbully’s point of view. It’s conflicting and tense and an absolutely brilliant use of mise en scène.
I also enjoyed the way in which Chanan utilized an oblique angle when showing the Sine-wave representing Casey’s hacker. My interpretation of it was as an inversion of Stanley Kubrick‘s representation of the Hal-9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Where Kubrick chose to shoot his monster with a close-up to emphasize its human qualities, Chanan chose the oblique angle to emphasize his human’s monstrous and alien qualities.
Non-diagetic music is sparse or near non-existent in Cyberbully (2015), and arguably this is the for the better. It allows us to concentrate on the brilliant dialogue and the intense diagetic soundscape. The only time when we hear music is at the start of the film, when we hear Casey’s choice of music, and even then, her inhability to control which song is playing is used to aid the story. It foreshadows the events about to happen and makes a statement about the uncontrollable nature of technology.
In conclusion, Cyberbully (2015) is an immensely intense, complicated, and thought provoking short film. It tackles a controversial and difficult topic with respect and style from both the cast and creative team. Maisie Williams, already a widely acclaimed actress from her work in Game of Thrones (2011), has given the best performance of her career so far, and I would be very surprised and very disappointed if she is not nominated and wins a BAFTA in the coming year.
If you haven’t seen Cyberbully (2015) yet, I can only recommend that you go see it. Now.