Review: Derren Brown ‘Apocalypse’

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Derren Brown © Channel 4

Derren Brown has attempted many shocking tricks in his time, however ‘Apocalypse’ was so unbelievable that some branded it fake last week.

His ruse, to convince a man that he had lost everything after a meteor shower had hit Britain, relied heavily on using fake journalism in the days building up to the staged disaster to convince him of the impending doom.

How ironic it was that newspapers in turn rounded on Brown before last night’s concluding episode, suggesting that the whole Channel 4 show had been faked.

Apocalypse, which started last Friday, introduced us to the layabout Steven Brosnan, who was carefully and cleverly duped into thinking it was the end of the world. Brown said that this experience would make him appreciate life more, and get more out of it, rather than just lying on the sofa watching TV, while taking his friends and family for granted.

In the first episode, Brown prepared Brosnan by feeding him false information via tweets, websites and TV and radio bulletins which heralded disaster for planet earth.

It was interesting to see how this element of false news information was vital to the success of this hugely expensive project, and how easily Brown achieved it by employing a hacker to gain access to Brosnan’s phone.

When the pyrotechnic ‘disaster’ happened as explosions rang out all around him, Brosnan was quickly hypnotised by Brown in the middle of this truly terrifying experience. He woke a day later in a remote hospital, surrounded by diseased zombies, with just two other non-infected survivors for company; a 14-year old looking for her mum, and an ambulance driver.

If that was shocking, the tables were turned on Brown in the week building up to the show’s climax as he had to defend his programme after several national newspapers accused Brosnan of being an actor as a profile set up by him was found on Casting Call Pro, a site for people wanting to get into acting.

Derren Brown with Steven Brosnan and family © Derren Brown’s website

On his website, Brown reported that Simon Dale, who runs the casting website, said: “Steve Brosnan is not, as far as we are aware, a professional actor. He created a profile on our site but never completed it, and didn’t upload any professional acting credits or a professional acting headshot – and so his profile was never ‘live’ on our system as he didn’t meet our joining criteria.”

While the first episode set the scene, the second included a lot more psychology. By talking through earpieces to the actors who Brosnan met on his nightmare adventure, Brown manipulated him into reacting in certain ways.

Brosnan was pushed to make decisions; to start leading the group of three and to negotiate his way several times through a very large group of zombies.

Brown’s main aim was to find out if Brosnan ‘had a heart’. At one point Brosnan had to choose whether to run free to safety – and be his old selfish self – or to stay surrounded by danger in order to help Leona.

It was amazing to see what someone might do under this sort of pressure; Brosnan ran, terrified, through a massive group of slobbering zombies and eventually ended up back at the little girl’s side, proving that this experience had made him a much more selfless person than the person he was two days ago.

When Brosnan was eventually reunited with his family, after being hypnotised once again by Brown into believing it was just an intense dream, there were tears all round, as he hugged his mum at the breakfast table; hugely relieved that the world hadn’t ended.

A very ironic ’28 days later’, Brosnan said to Brown: “We’ve become so much closer as a family. I’m more driven, more confident.”

This really did seem all a bit too good to be true. Surely, any sane person who had to go through this intense an experience would come out of it mentally scarred?

Derren Brown’s Apocalypse © Channel 4

However, Brown kept reminding the audience that Brosnan was being monitored the whole time by psychiatrists and psychologists and that his welfare was paramount, and, to be fair, Brosnan seemed happy.

Questions remain though: did Brosnan actually need this severe a prank? It wasn’t like he was an awful person beforehand, just a bit lazy.

And was Brosnan acting, just playing a part as some had suggested? It really didn’t seem so. His reactions appeared genuine, as did his relief at the end of the ordeal.

All in all, it was compelling, controversial and classic Derren Brown.