It’s hard not to think of the infamous ‘Blue Whale’ game while watching the 2022 series ‘Red Rose’ that’s about an app taking over the lives of a group of teenagers and driving them to their deaths. ‘Blue Whale’ was an online challenge that assigned 50 tasks to its teen users over a period of 50 days, goading participants to indulge in acts of self-harm and daring them to kill themselves on the final day. In ‘Red Rose’, an app infiltrates a teen’s phone and then starts bullying them into doing destructive things.
Directed by Michael Clarkson and Paul Clarkson, the series largely unfolds like a horror thriller over eight episodes. Isis Hainsworth plays Rochelle Manson, a bubbly teenager who begins to behave differently and ghosts her friends after downloading the mysterious “Red Rose” app. It initially promised to be a fairy godmother of sorts, but the app soon starts wreaking havoc in her life. When Rochelle is found dead at home, her best friend Wren (played by Amelia Clarkson) refuses to believe it was suicide and downloads “Red Rose” to investigate the app. Wren and her group of friends are then terrorized by the app as they try to uncover the truth.
I couldn’t recognize Isis Hainsworth at all, she looked familiar, but I couldn’t have guessed she was in Netflix’s ‘Metal Lords’ if I hadn’t looked up her filmography. While she was endearing as an asocial talented musician in the film, ‘Red Rose’ sees her transform into a bubbly-bitchy teen who is the ringleader of her small school gang called the ‘Fuckheads’. Despite being one of the more talented members of the cast, Isis’ role is a lot shorter than the others, but her performance helps set the pace for the show. Although at the end of episode one, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue watching the series because cautionary horror tales like these are on the rise – the devastating control technology can have over us.
The mystery over the app’s creators will keep viewers hooked to the show. However, a lot of things make no sense in the series, and one wishes the Clarkson brothers would’ve just gone out on a limb and made a supernatural horror story instead of a dystopian tech thriller. Most horror fans are probably tired of seeing creaky haunted mansions set in the 80s/90s or basically before the rise of smartphones. As it is, plenty of elements in ‘Red Rose’ are exaggerated, who not go for the full crazy package?
To be fair, the show does capture teen angst, insecurities, and the pressures of keeping up social media appearances well. All the cast members do a fantastic job with their roles, especially the younger actors who are a part of Wren’s group. Amelia Clarkson delivers a multi-layered performance as Wren, a teen who loses her best-friend and is bullied by her peers in the aftermath. Natalie Blair was fun as Ashley Banister, a die-hard fan of Princess Diana who dreams of traveling the world. While most of the gang is portrayed to be from financially struggling families, it’s interesting that two new additions to the ‘Fuckheads’ are Indian origin kids called Jaya Mahajan (Ashna Rabheru) and Taz Sadiq (Ali Khan) who are shown to be from wealthy families and while Taz is a bit of an airheard, Jaya is a tech genius who helps understand the origins of the app.
A few sub-plots that were simply forgotten by the end of the series, for example, Ellis Howard who plays Antony Longwell is hinted to have a stalker, there’s some suspense built over his chats with a stranger and then nothing comes off it. Maybe they should’ve compressed the show into six episodes or have made it slightly longer with a more conclusive ending instead of a cryptic cliffhanger that leaves plenty scope for a season two.
It’s a 7/10 from me.
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