One of my big personal fears is that, one day, I’ll accidentally go on Instagram Live while I’m in the toilet. We don’t need to go too deep into why. It is better to focus on what will happen when I do: a small assembled crowd start to interrogate my peeing technique; I become distracted, gazing at myself in the mirror, taking my shirt off and telling myself truths, as my account starts to go viral; when I turn back to my phone, penis fully out, Doja Cat is absolutely cooking me in the comments section. Then there’s the aftermath: friends will pretend they didn’t see it but they did; editors will find themselves less and less likely to email; my girlfriend, after watching a recap video on the LadBible Facebook page (how is this legal?), will leave me. All told, I think the worst thing in the world to possibly happen to me would be “Have 1.2 million people watch me wee”.
Oh, sorry – where was I? Ah, yes: Red Rose on BBC Three launches this Monday at 10pm, and it’s about the terrifying possibilities of looking at your phone. We’re in Bolton, and I’m glad we are – everyone has a very satisfying, “Hiyaluv, two chip barm please, yeah it’s warm today intit?” accent – and we’re following seven teenagers called, and it does feel unbelievable that I’m saying this, Wren, Roch, Taz, Noah, Ashley, Antony and Pavlov. Everyone’s just done their final GCSE and has a glug of sherry, a snog in a phonebox and a fraught am-I-invited-or-not? party about it, and all they really have to worry about is whether they can get a job this summer, whether their shoes are cool, and whether their childhood friendship is going to last a lifetime or not. And then someone downloads “Red Rose”.
It’s a boom time for shows about teenagers that are sort of for teenagers but often end up not being, and Red Rose – from the same production company as Sex Education, and the same writing team behind The Haunting of Bly Manor – fits neatly into that. I’m not going to tell you what’s going on because I’m still not 1,000% sure, but either a ghost or an app or both is terrorising the group of deliriously named teenagers for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on (again, sort of depends if it’s a ghost or not).
You’re right to think that, as a premise, this sounds completely silly and absurd – and not even in a delightful way – but Red Rose does two things very well: the classic, old-school, rising sense of horror; and the way the teenagers talk, text and get fed up about never having pocket money – that keeps this planted in the real world enough to work. You remember that summer after your GCSEs, don’t you? You still sort of thought Wicca could be effective, you were painfully aware of how much income your parents had compared to your friends’, and you got physically sick with jealousy every time someone had even one minute of fun that didn’t include you. Throw a haunted ghost app into that heady brew and they would have you screaming through the woods within seconds.
Sadly, I cannot quite tell whether Red Rose is “actually good” or “a good start that will be ruined by the shonkiness of the reveal”, because I had to watch The Stranger on Netflix for this column two years ago and I am still hurt by it. For now, it’s worth focusing on what it does very well. All the young actors are fantastic, the north-west setting feels genuine and deliberate rather than the result of someone going: “Where can we set this that isn’t London? Come on, guys! There has to be somewhere in Britain that isn’t London!” and pointing blindfold at a map, and it’s shot like a good thriller should be (I particularly enjoy how long some of the scenes and set-pieces are allowed to go on: the opening post-exam moors party, the introductory horror movie, the walk-through-town-with-your-hands-in-your-pockets stuff – a good hour of TV does not have to switch location every minute!).
Crucially, it will make you pause next time you blindly click “Allow Essential Cookies” on a website or grant an app access to your camera and microphone or install a complicated system of smart devices to control every single aspect of your house. This is what good horror should do: make you scared, but not constantly terrified; make you aware of the supernatural but afraid of the darkness of the real world, too; make you really, really careful about where you point your phone camera next time you go to the bathroom.