Now Streaming: Black Mirror: Arkangel (2017)

Jodie Foster takes the director's chair in this episode of Netflix's critically acclaimed anthology series Black Mirror.  Each episode is a different story about (for the most part) the perils of technology, usually involving a brutal twist in the final act.  Arkangel is a routine retread of stories about parents trying to shield their children from the dangers of the world only to do more harm than good in the end. 

Single mother Marie loses track of her daughter Sara at a playground and as a result opts to have high tech surveillance software hardwired into Sara's brain, allowing her to see everything her daughter sees.  Things predictably go awry and Marie and Sara's relationship is imperiled as a result.  Series creator Charlie Brooker wrote the script, which is fairly polished.  Given the amount of time, very little dialogue is wasted, yet it doesn't present anything new.  Brenna Harding does an excellent job as Sara, harnessing teenage distress perfectly in her limited screen time.  The rest of the cast is largely forgettable, each stepping into a clich├ęd role that perpetuates the recycled framework.  

Foster's confidence as a director is evident.  The compositions work well and there are a few terrifying shots sprinkled throughout.  The problem, that continues with Foster's work, is that there is very little to mine underneath the basic premise.  The allegorical presentation of parental censorship and authority is paper thin without even trying to be provocative.  One of the few points of interest is when Marie views things she cannot unsee, and even this pales in comparison to other films that explore the same concept, such as Paul Shrader's Hardcore.  The deviation here is that the technology doesn't go "wrong" so much as it gives Marie things she never knew she didn't want while doing irreparable damage to her family.  

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects is how some of the expected moral decision-making scenes are subverted.  A common expectation in these stories is how the child is eventually exposed to darkness and lost forever.  In Arkangel, this is inverted with the parent making a decision on the child’s behalf that is the final straw.  Conversely, it is the child who (while doing typical teenage experimentation) ultimately decides her path. 

Now streaming on Netflix, Black Mirror's fourth season continues the series’ trend of each season have a handful of amazing episodes along with several duds.  Sadly, Arkangel is in the latter.  If you’re interested in exploring this theme, 2017’s It Comes at Night is a more engaging experience.

--Kyle Jonathan