Friday, 16 January 2015

Blackout (2013)

I decided to rewatch Blackout on account of Ben Chanan's latest drama documentary Cyberbully hitting our screens last night.

Blackout remains a deeply unsettling and extremely effective 'what if?' film in the tradition of such shittifying gems as Ghost Watch and Threads (or even Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast) with a dash of Survivors whose conceit is the dangers posed to a contemporary Britain without any electronic power. Now, we've had blackouts in our countries recent history as any veteran of the Heath government's three day week of the 1970s will tell you. But Ben Chanan explores our current societal trends and comes up with a far more disturbing and disheartening national emergency than just sitting around paraffin lamps singing 'Obla di obla da' and contributing to the baby boom of the late twentieth century. In a (less than) United Kingdom of the twenty-first century would a population without the National Grid resort to mass hysteria, theft, looting and extreme violence (including police brutality) akin to the riots of 2011? It may be cynical, it may be scaremongering but it may also be extremely likely alas. Also, this being 2013 it's not striking power workers that cause the lights to go out, it's cyber hackers that are responsible for the base instincts and actions depicted by our characters captured via mobile phone and tablet footage throughout. And what an array of characters there are, from an irritating middle class Tom Good-esque self sufficiency devotee who seems to be enjoying this situation a little more than he should to a woman and her 10 year old daughter trying to trek across the country to be with her ailing mother in Sheffield and a sister paying an unusual vigil by her comatose brother's bedside in an up against it ICU.

But perhaps most sobering of all however is not the 'what if?' action but the actual facts Chanan has collated, which pepper our screen at intervals. Facts like emergency power in public places lasting no more than three hours, petrol stations having no back-up power whatsoever, life preserving hospital equipment  having to run on battery power that run for just 30 minutes at a time should the two back up generators eventually run out. Chanan skilfully pieces together his 'found footage' and staged material with real news footage to such a tremendous effect that I can't actually see the join, and I actually don't want to either. This is all so chillingly plausible you could be forgiven for taking it as truth.

Right, now I'm off to buy me some candles, tinned food and bottled water...

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