[SPOILERS for Black Mirror season 4.]
Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker points to a disturbingly fleet-footed real-life robot as the partial impetus for the dystopian episode ‘Metalhead’. Notable for its stark black-and-white cinematography, and for its breathless direction by David Slade, the episode is one of the bleakest (and by far the shortest) of the six new installments in Netflix’s techno-anthology, which saw season 4 drop recently. Now, the series creator is discussing the survivalist nature of the episode and where he drew inspiration from with regard to the dog-like robots that serve as the story’s main antagonists.
Stories of human survival in an apocalyptic setting are nothing new; they’ve seemingly increased in popularity recently. But instead of zombies, viruses, or oppressive regimes, Brooker’s ‘Metalhead’ unsurprisingly turns a discerning eye toward technology run amok. In this case, it’s the human-hunting “dogs”. These sturdy, four-legged robots have apparently wiped out most of humanity, leaving only small pockets of survivors to scavenge for supplies, and in the case of the Black Mirror’s brief glimpse, wipe out a small group of humans with relative ease.
But in an interview with EW, Brooker discusses where the dogs’ distinctive look comes from, and how he was inspired by Boston Dynamics’ videos of their robot dog, and just how unnerving some of its movements were. He also mentions that the survivalist aspect of the film wasn’t derived from The Walking Dead or even Terminator, but rather director J.C. Chandor’s 2013 film All Is Lost, starring Robert Redford. Brooker said:
“It was from watching Boston Dynamics videos, but crossed with — have you seen the film All Is Lost? I wanted to do a story where there was almost no dialogue. And with those videos, there’s something very creepy watching them where they get knocked over, and they look sort of pathetic laying there, but then they slowly manage to get back up.”
At just 41 minutes, ‘Metalhead’ is a quick, tense watch that does away with unnecessary backstory or explanation of how the robots came to be or even function. The relative brevity and unanswered questions work in the episode’s favor, but Brooker notes that wasn’t always the case. An earlier draft of the script turned the dogs into drones piloted remotely by humans living a comfortable life on the other side of the world.
“We sort of deliberately decided not to flesh out a lot of the backstory. Originally in my first draft, we also showed a human operator operating the dog robot from across the ocean at his house. There was a bit I liked where he leaves the [control unit] while the robot is watching her while she’s up in the tree and he goes and gives his kids a bath. But it felt a bit weird and too on-the-nose. It kind of felt superfluous. We deliberately pared it back and did a very simple story.”
That “simple story” is one of the most visually striking and anxiety-inducing of the new season. If you haven’t yet made it all the way through the season 4 episodes, do yourself a favor and check out ‘Metalhead’.
Black Mirror season 4 is available in its entirety on Netflix.