Black Mirror: Crocodile (2017)
Written by Charlie Brooker
Directed by John Hillcoat
Fifteen years ago, on their way home from a club, Rob and Mia hit a cyclist and proceed to toss his body and bike into a lake. Now, Mia is a successful architect who is on a business trip in the city. While she is there, Mia commits a second heinous act and appears to cover this one up as well. However, Shazia an insurance claims investigator is traveling down a path that will come colliding with Mia’s. Shazia uses a new form of technology that uses sensory input to create video images of people’s memories. This way the insurance company has a more accurate gauge of the events that happened. An accident occurs outside Mia’s hotel window the night she makes a decision out of desperation, and she ends up on the list of witnesses to interview.
Crocodile is one of the bleakest episodes of Black Mirror to date. And that is saying a hell of a lot. Previous episodes like The Entire History of You and White Bear have traveled to some troubling depths of the human psyche. White Christmas is another depressing entry where people exist in a virtual hell. Crocodile relies slightly less on the technology aspect and focuses more on the darkness of the human soul. The memory machine is more a plot device to move the story into its third act, a Sword of Damocles the audience is aware of for most of the episode, but Mia encounters when it is too late. The evil in Crocodile is the desperation of humans when the conflict of atonement and punishment collide with comfort and happiness.
The first striking aspect of this episode is the Icelandic landscape. I can’t think of a more perfect setting for such a cold and dark story. The land is bleak and craggy, snow-covered. Mia’s home in the country is a modern box, immaculate and sterile. This stunning background helps to correctly set the mood for the story.
The scenery is artfully filmed by director John Hillcoat. Hillcoat directed the 2008 adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but more importantly to me, he directed a brilliant Australian Western called The Proposition. The Proposition is a film I saw twice in the theaters back during its release in 2006. The film was written by Nick Cave and stars Guy Pearce as well as a host of other fantastic actors. An excellent movie to seek out if you have never seen it. Hillcoat is a master of the bleak, hopeless sort of story Crocodile turns out to be. While watching the episode, I actually felt like there was something about the whole affair that felt familiar and lo and behold I was happily surprised.
The acting in this episode is also some of the best in the season of Black Mirror so far. Andrea Riseborough is quickly becoming one of those actresses I am sitting up and paying attention to. I have caught her in Oblivion, Nocturnal Animals, Mindhorn, Birdman and the recent Battle of the Sexes. She is the type of actress who is chameleonic in both her look and performance so that you rarely realize you are seeing her until well into or after the film. So far she has played mostly supporting roles to more prominent name actors, so it is nice to see her getting such a significant spotlight. She is assisted here by Kiran Sonia Sawar as Shazia, the insurance investigator. Sawar has such a natural effortlessness in her role, she feels to so naturally fit into this world and this character. That honesty is what makes the third act such a painful and horrific turn.
Of the three Black Mirror Season 4 episodes I have watched to this point, I would say Crocodile is my favorite. I have a personal penchant for the somber, melancholic stories because they deliver the most emotional impact in my opinion. Seeing this dark spiral into a living hell for one person is something that remains with you and adds resonance.