Not for the faint of heart
Metalhead is an incredibly bleak episode, one of many in the Black Mirror Series. It’s set in a dystopian future where sentient robots, called dogs, hunt humans. The entire episode is set in black and white, and the musical score is as chilling as any proper horror short story. The episode follows three members of a survival group who are out foraging for supplies, looking for a specific box on the top shelf of a specific warehouse out in the wasteland. Hastily-abandoned cars litter the side of the road among empty, destitue landscapes, suggesting something went seriously wrong in this world.
A Killer Robot Dog With No Face
The characters encounter one of these “dogs” early on, and this is where the true horror sets in. This dog is completely expressionless, adding a cold and calculating element to its purpose to apparently search and destroy any human it comes across. Part of what makes this killer robot so chilling is perhaps because the technology it employs does not seem that far-fetched compared to what is possible today.
Another masterfully done element of this short horror piece is the slow-motion effects that are employed whenever something truly shocking and terrible happens. It reminds me of anytime something awful is in progress of happening, so bad it requires a shift in worldview or complete change in perspective afterwards, and so while it happens it seems as if time slows down. If you’ve ever watched something truly valuable like a new cellphone fall towards the hard concrete without a case, or some priceless bauble tumble into a drain, perhaps you can relate. And so too is the viewer taken along for the ride of the horror that these humans encounter.
Similar to other horror films (I would think, because it’s a genre I try to avoid) the camera often takes the place of what the dog sees, how it scans the land and how it pursues its prey. This at least reminded me of the AI visions from the perspective of the Terminator.
Alternating Between First-Person and Third-Person Shots
Surprisingly, the camera never takes a complete first person perspective of the humans in the episode, but with the masterfully cut angles it might well have with its close-up shots of the tools that the surviving humans encounter in their breathless run from the dogs.
As terrifying as this episode is (including the decidedly unhappy ending), one might find solace in thinking that this dog, this technology, isn’t possible.
Why This Matters: Chilling Parallels with Boston Dynamics
Well, that same terror might return if the viewer knows about the work of Boston Dynamics. See any similarities here?
Boston Dynamics has already made several breakthroughs in the mobility of their robots, and I for one think it’s just a matter of time that these robots, similar to the drone technology we already have, will become more widespread and available, especially with the military.
It’s not a far leap to guess that weaponizing the quadruped robots they already have would be useful to ‘save lives’ for the military, and once that’s achieved, it’s only a matter of time before those weaponized robots are hunting enemy humans (as this Youtube Channel Corridor effectively imagines). Combine that with the drones that are already dropping bombs on people, and you have a truly dystopian future.
The acting in this episode is masterfully done, as are the shots and the scenes. I would have liked to see the episode in color, as the black and white scale was unnecessary, but I suppose it does add an artistic and even more somber touch to an already depressingly terrorizing episode.
Final Verdict: 9/10
You have to take the episode for what it is: A chilling, and thrilling, standalone episode. I always find that it’s the episodes that you keep on thinking about long after you’ve seen it that are the most influential, and this episode is definitely one of them. Because of the acting, the black and white stylistic choice, the action, the horror, and the direction of different angles, this is an excellent thrilling robot horror episode.