We've all thought about it, right? It's almost impossible not to. It used to be the sole preoccupation of nerds, spotty basement dwellers and psychotic gun enthusiasts, but now literally everyone is thinking and talking about it. You know what I mean. Yep, that's right. The zombie apocalypse.
Zombies have invaded and they're infecting everything, from international politics to teen romance, there is hardly one segment of modern pop culture that hasn't felt the clingy, rotting touch of the shambling undead. It might seem like we're reaching a point of saturation, where new and exciting additions to the zombie genre are no more. Well, you might be right, but it's not all over just yet. Today, in Made in Britain, I am introducing Derren Brown: Apocalypse — a recent British hidden camera show which literally makes the zombie apocalypse come alive for one unsuspecting man.
Derren Brown is a tour de force of illusion magic. So-much-so, I have even had serious doubts about whether he is of this mortal world. He has predicted the lottery, made an entire nation (including me) stick to their chairs, turned someone into a unconscious assassin and played Russian roulette live on air. And this is only the tip of the Derren Brown iceberg. But perhaps the best thing about this charming bearded mentalist is that he admits there is nothing supernatural about his activities. He certainly isn't David Blaine, that's for sure. Brown explains at the beginning of all his shows that he utilizes a combination of “magic (by which he means the method of magicians), suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship" to achieve his feats. Ultimately this makes his shows even more spectacular. When he stuck me to my living room couch, it wasn't because of some mystical magical power, but because he had subconsciously programmed my brain to stop me from standing up. Absolutely amazing — and terrifying.
Derren Brown: Apocalypse is one his most recent and ambitious projects. To put it concisely, he aimed to make an underachieving and selfish member of the public believe the world had suffered the real zombie Armageddon. And, in true Derren Brown style, that is exactly what he did.
He selected a participant (or victim, I suppose) from the masses of applicants he receives for his shows. The target, a man known as Steven Brosnan, was shown to be living a fruitless and self-centred life. Derren describes him as suffering from a "lazy sense of entitlement", while Steven's own mother tearfully admitted she sometimes felt like he didn't love her anymore. Derren planned to provide Steven with a powerful epiphany by making him temporary believe the world had been hit by a meteor strike that brought with it an infectious and zombifying infection. The task was certainly not a simple one, it required a 1000 acre disused nuclear testing facility, over 250 actors, 150 microphones, 60 hidden cameras, 1 computer hacker and an extremely well rehearsed and drilled team.
Derren: Brown: Apocalypse comes in two parts. In Part 1, our magical auteur explains the painstaking process behind his craft. First he had to plant hints in Steven's everyday life that an asteroid was heading to Earth. Through fake TV, news and Twitter updates, Derren was able to leak stories of an approaching meteor into Steven's media consumption. On the fateful day (Steven's birthday no less), he is heading to a music concert with his brother when the meteors (or should I say pyrotechnics) strike. Cue Derren jumping into the action and placing Steven under hypnosis almost immediately.
The second half of Part 1 is where the show really becomes one of the most spectacular moments of television you will ever see — and I do not say that lightly. Steven supposedly awakes two weeks later in an deserted military hospital in the English countryside. Alone and abandoned, all he has for company is a looping television message which tells of an incapacitating infection. I've always wondered what it would be like to awake in the zombie apocalypse. I often imagine myself jumping into action and becoming a slightly less hardcore (and bespectacled) version of Rick Grimes. Well, if Steven's response is anything to go by, it seems what most of us would really do is just stand there looking absolutely terrified, confused and like your about to evacuate all of your various orifices simultaneously.
I won't spoil the remainder of Steven's adventure, but I will say it's a rather moving and brilliantly executed story. Steven's progress is masterly crafted through the use of actors, playing both other survivors and the infected, action set pieces and heart-wrenching personal stories. All of this thrown together leads Steven to begin to reevaluate his life, his approach to his family and ultimately how he had spent his time on the non-zombified Earth.
Of course, if you are expecting Steven to manufacture a makeshift weapon and start murdering out-of-work actors then you're probably going to be disappointed. Steven spends much of his time hiding, running and sneaking his way through the infected. In the moments when he isn't evading their rather slow grasp he engages in contemplative conversations with his companions — a young girl, a paramedic and a selfish coward — about his life, his family and his future plans. At various points throughout the drama, Steven is required to make decisions which in his 'former life' would have been inconceivable — whether it's taking charge, risking his own safety or simply consoling his fellow survivors, you begin to see a new Steven who seems almost impossibly different from the one we met in Part 1.
There have been some suggestions Derren faked the entire experiment by using an actor. I've perused most of the 'evidence' and I think it's far to say it's not entirely convincing. Derren has pulled off some crazy stuff in his career, and I don't think faking the end of the world is outside of his abilities. But ultimately, the best argument comes from the big man himself. In a blog post he explained:
I have never, ever used stooges or actors in that way. It's artistically repugnant, lazy and just unnecessary... We spent months setting up Steven’s experience... To fake all of that with an actor would be pointless.
At the end of the day, I can guarantee you've never seen anything like it, and if you need one reason to see Apocalypse then that should be it. Its The Walking Dead meets The Truman Show meets Punk'd style might raise some ethical issues (all of which are dealt with) but it does provide a fascinating look into how a human behaves when suddenly thrown into unbelievable situations. For the most part they unquestionably accept their new surroundings and run, run, run when they get chased by a screaming guy covered in blood.
So, I guess that at this point you're dying to watch Derren Brown: Apocalypse? Well, unfortunately it is unlikely to be shown on US television anytime soon. However, both parts of Derren Brown: Apocalypse are abundantly available on various Youtube channels.
Check it out and make sure you come back to tell me what you think. If you want to be kept updated with future editions of Made in Britain, make sure to follow me by hitting the button in the top right, or by following on Twitter @MarkMoviepilot. Next week I'll be uprooting , and 's pasts in the hilarious and classic sitcom, Spaced. In the meantime, why don't you let me know your zombie survival plans in the comments section below?
Check out some previous editions of Made in Britain (OK, there's only one at the moment)