Cyberbully (2015 film)

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Screen Shot of Cyberbully 2015 TV Movie.jpg
Genre Thriller
Screenplay by Ben Chanan
David Lobatto
Directed by Ben Chanan
Starring Maisie Williams
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Leah Cooper
Cinematography Ben Moulden
Running time 62 minutes
Original network Channel 4
Original release
  • 15 January 2015 (2015-01-15) (UK)

Cyberbully is a UK television docu-drama thriller that premiered on Channel 4 on 15 January 2015.[1] The film stars Maisie Williams as Casey Jacobs, a typical teenage girl who lives her life out online, and is called out for her cyberbullying by an anonymous culprit. The film was written by Ben Chanan and David Lobatto, with Chanan also directing the feature.

Cyberbully was released on DVD on 8 February 2016.[2]


The film takes place entirely in the bedroom of Casey Jacobs and happens in real time.

One evening, Casey is Skyping with her best friend, Megan, when she learns that her ex-boyfriend, Nathan, has posted a cruel comment on Twitter about her use of anti-depressants. Megan confides in their friend, Alex, and suggests that he hack Nathan's account as revenge, but he declines. After Casey and Megan end their chat, Casey suddenly receives an instant message, ostensibly from Alex, who provides her with a hacked link to Nathan's Twitter account. Casey clicks on the link and posts an embarrassing, cruel tweet about Nathan's erectile dysfunction. However, after she deduces that the type of language the messenger is using is not the sort that Alex would use, she realises that the messenger is an anonymous hacker. The hacker describes themselves as a "fan", showing Casey a series of videos of her previous activity across the internet, most of it under her online pseudonym "Chronic Youth", before pointing out that Megan hasn't included a photo of Casey on her Instagram account for a long time. Finally they reveal that they are a vigilante who "helps victims of cyberbullying". Suddenly frightened, Casey excuses herself from the chat, but after seemingly complying, the hacker activates a screamer on her computer, catching her off guard, takes control of the webcam and starts to communicate to Casey in a computer-generated voice. The hacker then reveals a series of nude photographs that Casey took of herself, and threatens to post them online if either she leaves the room, her father (who repeatedly calls up to her and knocks on her door) enters, or she answers any phone calls, effectively leaving her trapped and isolated. To Casey's horror, the hacker then uploads a video that she and Megan filmed revealing the homosexuality of their friend, Tamara, on Casey's Twitter account, effectively outing her, and provoking a series of angry texts from Tamara. When Casey demands to know how the hacker's actions are helping her, the hacker scoffs and reveals that it is Casey who is the cyber bully.

The hacker then shows Casey all of her previous activity under the screen name "Chronic Youth" again, and explains to her how her actions constitute cyber-bullying, while also revealing that they had posted the cruel comment about her from Nathan's account in order to bait her. She attempts to justify herself by saying that her actions are completely normal for a teenager, but the hacker dismisses these as excuses. Through a series of videos and screen-grabs, they tell Casey the story of Jennifer Li, a former schoolmate of Casey's whose singing videos on Vine had suffered a deluge of abuse as a result of a single, cruel comment that Casey had made. Jennifer eventually posted a video in which she told the story of her abuse with flash cards, and, shortly afterwards, committed suicide. Believing that the hacker is Jennifer's father, Casey tearfully expresses remorse for what happened, but the hacker denies being in any way related to Jennifer, and instead demands that Casey meets their demands, to admit to being a cyber bully, confess to her role in Jennifer's death, and to apologise. She does so, but the hacker believes she is being insincere, and announces that they will upload Casey's nude photos regardless, as well as some nude photographs of Megan's, and that she will have to choose either death by overdosing on her anti-depressants or living with the shame that would inevitably follow the exposure of her photos, and the loss of her best friend.

Defeated, Casey prepares to take her overdose when she notices that the hacker expresses amusement by typing "har har har", and realises that the writing style matches that of one of Jennifer Li's more aggressive abusers, "Steerpike_84", and that they have goaded several others into committing suicide. At that moment, Casey's father turns up at her door with a message from Megan, who has deduced that Casey's recent activity is not really her doing. Casey throws up the pills she has already taken, and when the hacker tries to threaten to post the photos again, they make several typos, revealing that they are beginning to falter. Casey tells the hacker to go ahead and post the photos if they wish because they can do nothing to control the actions or emotions of her family, her friends or her real life, before heading to the door to call Megan back. Defeated, the hacker pleads with her to stay, offering to reveal their true identity. Casey simply returns to the computer, looks right into the webcam and tells the hacker that their identity doesn't matter to her, because when she stops talking to them, they become nothing. She closes the computer, cutting the hacker off. Overwhelmed by the hour-long ordeal she has just been through, Casey opens her door, collapses in the doorway and tearfully calls to her father, who rushes to her.



The film was based entirely on real experiences.[1] To ensure the script was an accurate portrayal of contemporary teenage life writer/director Ben Chanan consulted both Williams and his own teenage daughter to ensure any "Dad-isms" were ironed out of the script.[3] Maisie Williams, who portrayed the central character of Casey Jacobs, noted that she had been a victim of cyberbullying after being cast as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones. She received messages calling her "stuck up", and saying that she thought was "too good for everyone else".[4] Like the film's protagonist Williams admitted responding to the bullying in kind, saying "when you're 13 and someone says something nasty you don't want to ignore them. You want to hurt them like they've hurt you. You get in to this bitchy cycle."[5]

Critical reception[edit]

Cyberbully (which is unrelated to the similarly named 2011 American film) received positive reviews from critics. The Spectator asserted that the one-off play was a "very well made one, deftly shifting our sympathies throughout (with the aid of Maisie Williams’s dazzling central performance) and full of genuine menace."[6] Similarly, writing in The Guardian, Filipa Jodelka described Maisie Williams central performance as a "tour-de-force", although noted that unlike its billing it shouldn't be "viewed as a realistic depiction of cyberbullying at all, but as a kind of millennial ghost-in-the-machine spine-chiller instead, replete with traditional horror devices (Faustian pacts, anonymous ghouls, tests of morality), mild peril and creepy strings."[1] Mark Monahan of The Daily Telegraph gave the episode 3/5 stars, and noted the plot's predictability. Despite this he still felt that it was "tense, all too topical, and – here’s hoping – maybe even socially useful television."[7]

The Independent noted that it "was that rare programme that felt authentic enough to persuade teens, while also engaging older viewers."[3] In a further review of the film for The Guardian, Lucy Mangan described the film as "part gothic horror, part An Inspector Calls for the digital age." She also felt that despite Williams's good performance, it was Haruka Abe as Jennifer Li who was the standout performer, with Abe having the more "difficult task of making happiness and optimism compelling until she has to modulate into despair under the weight of the people who attack her and urge her to kill herself."[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for the 2016 Bafta TV Awards in the Single Drama category.[9] The film won the 2016 Prix Italia in the TV drama category.[10]


External links[edit]