Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Red Rose, on Netflix

Gen. X has always been paranoid about online privacy—and constantly vindicated for it. You won’t find the Underrated Generation downloading the evil app of this new British series, but Gen Z reliably falls into its trap. Malware doesn’t get much nastier than the app driving the Clarkson (Michael & Paul) Twins’ eight-part Red Rose, which premieres today on Netflix.

Rochelle “Roch” Mason is smart and tough, but she is keenly aware of family’s lowly economic status. She is also still grieving, and embarrassed by, her mother’s suicide. That makes her a prime target for the predatory Red Rose, which presumably just drove the teenaged girl in the
Scream-like prologue to commit suicide. Initially, the app gives her life-coaching prompts that seem to improve her standing. However, it also cuts her off from contact with her tight-knit circle of friends. It even sends texts and social media posts guaranteed to isolate Mason from her support system. Finally, it apparently summons the voice of her mother, from beyond the grave, to torment her.

Not to be spoilery, but Wren Davies will have reason to suspect the Red Rose app had a sinister influence on her former friend, so she will download it too, to see for herself. Unlike Mason, Davies tries her best to experience Red Rose in the presence of her friends, so they can bear witness to its evil tricks. Of course, nobody will believe them, except Jaya Mahajan, a computer geek classmate with hipster-hacker connections, who becomes a post-graduation addition to their friend group.

Mahajan is a critical addition to the series as well, preventing it from becoming an eight-part rehash of
Unfriended: Dark Web. Thanks to her, they get proactive, instead of simply sitting around waiting to die (or hastening the process). Ashna Rabheru’s portrayal is convincingly intelligent, as well as charismatic. Frankly, the series probably should have focused on her from the start. She far outshines Amelia Clarkson and Isis Hainsworth, playing Davies and Mason. Plus, if there is ever a second season, she would have to be one of the central figures.

Still, Clarkson, Hainsworth, Natalie Blair, Ellis Howard, Ali Khan, and Samuel Redding are all only too believable as clueless teenagers. Sometimes, viewers might be tempted to root for the app. However, Charlie Hiscock has some nice scenes deepening the app’s backstory as Jacob Taylor, Red Rose’s original developer, who maybe isn’t what the kids assumed.

Aside from the sixth episode (which takes far too long to restart the narrative),
Red Rose is fairly well paced. It isn’t perfect, but it definitely taps into society’s collective anxiety regarding social media and big tech. Mostly recommended for teens as a cautionary tale to keep their business private, Red Rose starts streaming today (2/15) on Netflix.