Contains Some Spoilers
Hannah Arterton stars as Bobbi, a controversial new author set to start work on her already onerous second novel. Having broken new ground with her debut and unintentionally courting mass hysteria, the normally stoic young woman gives in, abandoning her typewriter for a highly intelligent, sophisticated piece of editing software.
But the machine doesn’t come without it’s perils as Bobbi soon descends into a sinister mindset out of her control as the software is more than determined to write her novel for her. It’s a battle for creativity as Peripheral challenges the balance between an author’s creative control versus marketing influence which can be applied to any given media. Should Bobbi compromise her own voice for the lure of success and unwarranted attention or can she fight the system before it’s too late and the machine overcomes her?
Cyber-Horror is vastly becoming a staple in modern genre films. With the likes of the Unfriended franchise tackling the dangers of social media, Peripheral is a blunt analogy citing our heavy reliance on computers in place of self-expression and work that requires time and a great deal of effort to undertake. Peripheral employs striking science fiction metaphors for the state of society, referring to the London riots from the not-so-distant past as well as the status of the modern career woman and the age-old perception that women should be assigned to becoming mothers placing their whole ambitions on hold. This aspect cleverly allows the entity (machine) to snatch control away from Bobbi to produce the novel her sketchy, Botox-loving publisher, Jordan (Belinda Stewart-Wilson) desires, quashing Bobbi’s true talent and flair for writing that made her first novel an unexpected success.
Bobbi is a complex character. She embodies a rebellious streak and strives for her own truth, however a taste of fame and the necessity to pay her bills lures her into a fabricated world where everything is manufactured for financial gain. Her publisher deviously aims to create a faux-persona for Bobbi for the public to see, resulting in horrifying consequences when she unwittingly attracts the attention of a crazed stalker.
Actress Hannah Arterton is never off screen. She delivers a compelling performance as a young woman whose life is gradually spiralling out of control. Peripheral is her character’s battle against societal norms and her own inner angst. Atrerton does a tremendous job in bringing this multi-layered character to life aided by the intricate writing for her in Dan Schaffer’s screenplay. Bobbi is one of the most interesting female characters put to screen in a genre movie in recent history as she represents the modern-day 20 something treading down a highly ambitious career path.
The downside to the film is reflected in its pacing, while the concept is on point, around midway the narrative just remains in limbo, having already offered up its most interesting elements. It doesn’t catapult towards a satisfying pay off, becoming exasperatingly convoluted in its themes and somewhat overcomplicates itself. Much of this style of genre ventures down the route of overplaying the sci-fi aspect to inexplicable extremes.
Peripheral supplies excellent characterisation and an increasingly frightening commentary on our dependence on computers over human thought and interaction. Si Begg composes a downbeat, low-key synth-based score, that extenuates the sci-fi themes and Bobbi’s isolation as she remains on countdown towards the deadline the machine has set for her. Director Paul Hyatt provides a claustrophobic and grimy environment that is a complete juxtaposition to the celebrity world the film alludes to. He presents a verse’ in which no one truly knows what is behind the glitz and glamour the media spoon feeds to us, leaving Bobbi’s environment as shockingly real.
The minimal setting allows for the tension to build implying a sense of no escape as the film provides only a crumb of a glimpse into the outside world. The political backdrop adds more weight to the proceedings as an anchor for Bobbi’s motivations to write and present her thoughts to the world. The film edges into today’s version of the ‘paranoid horror’ trope with the notion of conspiracy overpowering reality.
Horror reflects our innermost fears, especially connected to the current state of the world. Peripheral is a snapshot into the advancement of technology and what that means for the future if we allow it to control us.