Black Mirror Season 6 episode 2 review: ‘Loch Henry’ exposes the cynicism of the true crime industrial complex
With Loch Henry, Black Mirror takes on the true crime industrial complex, framing its media satire through the lens of a horror story
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This review contains detailed and immediate spoilers for Black Mirror Season 6 episode 2, ‘Loch Henry’.
In summer 1997, Simon and Dawn Challis, a young couple on their honeymoon in Scotland, went missing. There was some effort towards a search, for a little while, even some brief national attention, but it dwindled after a while – the death of Princess Diana offered splashier headlines – and the pair were largely forgotten about. Until, that is, their bodies were discovered in the basement of local farmer Iain Ardair – an apparent sadist and serial killer who killed himself when his secret was revealed. The violent crime rocked the otherwise close-knit community of Loch Henry, and by 2023 the town has almost faded away entirely.
When student filmmakers Davis (Samuel Blenkin) and his girlfriend Pia (Myha’la Herrold, taking time away from giving one of the performances of the decade in Industry) arrive in Loch Henry to work on a documentary, it’s functionally a ghost town – much to the frustration of Davis’ childhood friend Stuart (Daniel Portman), who runs a pub now on the brink of foreclosure. Inspired by “that Netflix thing about the guy who killed women” (“you’ll have to be more specific,” notes Pia), Stuart suggests the pair abandon their plans for a film about a local conservationist, and instead make a true crime documentary about Iain Ardair to try and revitalise local tourism.
Davis is, at least initially, reluctant; he grew up in Loch Henry, and his father, a policeman, died as a result of injuries sustained in an attempt to apprehend Ardair. Pia’s enthusiasm wins him over quickly, though, or if not her enthusiasm, then her questioning whether he wants “to make something that’ll maybe be admired by a couple dozen documentary nerds, or something that people will actually watch? Something they actually want to see?” (Her suggestion, too, that if he doesn’t join in she’ll make it without him – and be sole recipient of any acclaim and plaudits it brings – no doubt helping too.)
What follows is a simple, stark dissection of the true crime industrial complex, all its cynicism laid bare: Davis, Pia, and Stuart are quick to try and capitalise on the murders, each scene from the documentary seeming tackier than the last, and exaggerate Davis’ personal connection to what happened while trying to sell the film to a production company looking for an easily marketed commercial angle. The lone voice of opposition, Stuart’s father Richard (John Hannah), is dismissed at every turn; he rants and raves at the trio, denouncing them as parasites trying to turn a real tragedy into content to be bought and sold, but he’s only ever a Cassandra figure at best.
There’s something of a twist, of course – it’s a Black Mirror episode; really, it’d be a spoiler to say there’s not a twist – but suffice to say that through their attempt to make the documentary Davis and Pia dredge up something they would’ve preferred not to. Aesthetically, Loch Henry feels almost like a horror movie – a Blair Witch inspired tale that forms the first step in this season’s episode-by-episode self-reinvention, moving away from the traditional Black Mirror stylings of Joan is Awful to the Demon 79’s new Red Mirror – but it’s also borne of clear awareness of true crime, its cliches, and its failings. Again, like Joan Is Awful, Loch Henry is a Black Mirror that feels like it owes something to Brooker’s past as a television columnist, and has something to say about a dominant media form.
Samuel Blenkin is a particular standout here, lending real weight to both Davis’ struggle with making a true crime documentary, and his eventual dismissal of his own worries – and the moment where that comes back to haunt him, too. You can tell, of course, what Davis is going to end up doing as soon as he starts narrating the story of Iain Adair to Pia in Stuart’s pub. Simon and Dawn Challis were largely forgotten about. “Until one day,” prompts Pia. “Until one night,” he corrects her with a slight smile, a fantastic line read from Blenkin, not just positioning Davis as the consummate dramatist but capturing the perverse thriller of true crime too.
The episode ends with Stuart’s pub full of tourists, watching the BAFTAs on television and celebrating when Kirsty Wark announces that Davis has won the award for Best Documentary for Loch Henry: Truth Comes Home. It’s where Black Mirror’s criticism of the true crime industrial complex is expressed with most clarity, as a producer on the documentary (played to vapid, hypocritical perfection by Ellie White) swans about the afterparty, criticising an actor at length before offering them a part in the upcoming dramatisation of Loch Henry – content begets content, after all - as soon as they’re within earshot.
As Davis sat alone in his hotel room, the cold and unfeeling face of a BAFTA mask staring down at him, it calls to mind his original pitch for the film about the nature conservationist. “He guards relics against collectors who want to steal them. This is going to be a story about one of the last remaining holdouts against commodification”. Maybe Davis should’ve made that film instead.
Black Mirror Season 6 is available to stream on Netflix now. You can read more of our Black Mirror coverage here, including our reviews of the previous episode Joan Is Awful and the next episode Beyond the Sea.