Being a writer has often been associated with being a recreational user of drugs, alcohol and anything else that is typically considered as indulgent and a little more risque. That is certainly the truth for many writers out there, however, some of the most famous writers were known to use and abuse particular vices in order to help them enter an altered state which allowed creativity to flow, unlike anything in a sober state of mind. Peripheral from director Paul Hyett (The Convent, The Seasoning House and Howl) begins to explore the effects that drugs can have on the mind, and dispel the reasoning that in order to create something magnificent you need to open your third eye and see the world differently.
Bobbi Johnson is a successful fiction writer, known for her book I Bite The Hand, which has been hailed as a revolutionary piece of writing that has even gained a dedicated cult following. She’s in the midst of writing her follow-up, however her agent demands more from her and bribes her into swapping her trusty typewriter for a high-end technological computer in return for paying her bills. Without lights and water, Bobbi eventually agrees to delve into the modern world and lets her agent supply her with a futuristic computer that is able to edit her work in real time, monitor her progress, send every word back to the agent immediately and even spy on her. As she begins to write more, she also begins taking psychedelic drugs again from her ex-boyfriend. The more she writes, the unhappier she becomes and things quickly spiral into technological chaos and madness before the book is finished…
Being a writer brings along many fears of how your work is always accessible and can have a particular impact on people, especially when the work is fiction and challenges a certain way of thinking. Throughout Peripheral, it focuses on how Bobbi created her best piece of work when she was a drug addict to psychedelics and how what she wrote was a mind-bending piece of literature that changed the way people thought about the world and what they had been taught to believe. This feels like a timely response to the situation that the world is going through now; many people are speculative of what the media are pushing into their faces and concerned that they are being fed lies by the corporations, government and anyone with an inch of authority or power. Bobbi, played by Hannah Arterton, also has the same questions spinning endlessly around her mind, especially when her agent convinces her that this piece of technology will revolutionise the way she works. Only to discover that this machine which has been embedded within her house actually alters the words she writes and turns them into something else, completely manipulating her thoughts and creating an alternate version of the truth. Tones of propaganda and distrust are expelled throughout the entirety of the film, and the journey we follow is of how Bobbi can escape from the nightmare that has been forced upon her.
Blending together elements of sci-fi and horror, Peripheral is a film that holds no bounds and quickly descends into insanity. Hannah Arterton does an exemplary job portraying Bobbi and her loss of self recognition as the film develops, however, it does feel like we never truly get to know Bobbi enough to understand what significance this has on her life. Even though a dedicated back-story is given through conversations with her ex-boyfriend regarding living in a squat and being a drug addict, it feels like we don’t fully get to know the Bobbi that stands before us now, which is a shame as it creates some form of disconnect between us and her, something that would have helped to elevate the film and make it more engaging on a humanistic level. As Bobbi continues to write her book, the piece of technology she is using takes charge and even begins to automatically change the gender of her protagonist from female to male, without giving her a chance to approve this change. The film focuses on the technology and how some elements of A.I. bring it to life, whilst the rest is based on user information and data which is collected and fed back to her agent. There are times when it seems a little too exaggerated; the computer reacts when she is having sex, and starts wikipedia-ing sexual intercourse and making a note of it – something that it uses as a later date to initiate a bizarre yet sensual digital intercourse, which is very reminiscent of the tree scene from The Evil Dead.
The film becomes more and more unwired, taking Bobbi to the darkest depths of her own realms as she indulges more heavily into psychedelic drugs and feels the effects of them causing a discourse. As her extremities gradually become blackened and more tech is added to the computer to keep upgrading it to the newest way of thinking, she finds herself becoming a real-life version of the motherboard. Some scenes feel disjointed and out of place, which perhaps is an on-screen reflection of Bobbi’s state of mind, but it becomes hard to follow at times and leads to much questioning of “what is going on right now?!” For the right viewer, that’s not necessarily a bad way for a movie to present itself, but in places it does come across as a little forceful in trying to shock the audience or make them feel out of place with what is currently happening.
Peripheral has the advantage of being an independent film that is quite unlike anything else that we’ve seen before, yet at the same time feels like it has taken many ideas from existing films and tried to blend them into one anarchic movie that does it all. There’s a deeper meaning hidden amongst all of the cables here, however, there are too many obscure distractions happening that it’s hard to really focus on that message when you’re being penetrated by a computer that essentially wants to re-write your thoughts and feelings into something that is mainstream and marketable. Peripheral is unique, completely chaotic and technically titillating but loses its purpose and meaning with one too many strange things happening.
Directed by: Paul Hyett
Written by: Dan Schaffer
Cast: Hannah Arterton, Tom Conti, Rosie Day