The true unmissable horror of BBC’s Red Rose is just how much it holds a mirror up to our own relationships with our phones, according to one Stylist writer. 

Content warning: this article contains minor spoilers for BBC’s Red Rose.

More and more, series creators and writers are realising that what often makes for good drama is basing it on real-world events. It’s part of the reason why we loved social media thriller Chloe, why This Is Going To Hurt was a runaway BBC success and why Marriage is our current series obsession.

But when you mix real-life with a horror series, you get the nail-biting excellence that is Red Rose. The new BBC Three drama focuses on the intoxicating relationship between teenagers and their online lives, which may sound far removed from our adult selves, but it’s all too hauntingly familiar.

The first episode airs tonight (Monday 15 August), and trust us, you don’t want to be seated in a dark room when you watch it. While the drama focuses on a friendship group of Bolton teenagers, it’s still incredibly eerie and realistic. It’s part of the same appeal that has seen shows like Euphoria, Derry Girls and – lest we forget – Skins gain cult-like followings, even though they’re all based on the teen experience. Red Rose is from the same team behind Sex Education so, of course, it was always going to be more than just a drama about a group of teens. 

The first episode of BBC’s Red Rose airs tonight on BBC Three.

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In the first episode, we’re introduced to the group of fun-loving teens who have just broken up for the summer holidays and have their entire lives ahead of them post-GCSEs. Their summer is one filled with the prospect of partying, new experiences and drunken nights filled with playing ‘never have I ever’. The series focuses on Rochelle (played by Isis Hainsworth) and Wren (Amelia Clarkson), two best friends who always seem to have the other’s back. But when Wren is invited to a party Rochelle wishes she was invited to, and then starts up a romantic relationship with Noah (Harry Redding), jealousy starts to bubble up between the pair, which threatens their long-held friendship.

It’s clear from the beginning that Rochelle isn’t like her peers – she’s brash, harsher to her less popular peers and isn’t liked by everyone. She’s a teenager who has had to grow up well ahead of her years and, later on in the episode, we get a glimpse of her personal life, her ongoing grief and the fact that she goes to the local food bank to get supplies. But even still, she retains this façade that all is OK. It’s part of the reason why she’s a prime target for Red Rose, the app that is ‘sent’ to her but is actually just a phishing text. “Welcome to the new you,” the app’s opening screen reads.

The new BBC Three series is now available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

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But like with any suspicious-looking software, you have to be careful. Rochelle downloads the app without a second thought – partly because it’s coming from one of the most popular girls in school – but soon, it’s obvious that the app is taking over her phone’s camera in the most sinister way. It presents her with a haunting silhouette of her dead mother, and later on, Red Rose commands her to do things. 

As she realises that Becky never actually sent her a link to download the app, Red Rose becomes a more menacing all-seeing presence in her back pocket. “Kiss Noah” it reads when she’s at the party. But when she refuses, CCTV footage of her at the food bank starts playing on the big flatscreen TV in the living room. She looks on in horror at the TV, and then at her phone when it tells her to kiss Noah – Wren’s love interest – again. 

She does it and, of course, as with many things these days, another person at the party starts filming the whole awkward affair and, to Wren’s disgust, is simultaneously being shown on the TV. Not only is Rochelle and Wren’s friendship now on extremely shaky ground, but Red Rose has also seamlessly woven itself into Rochelle’s life and started to control it.

Isis Hainsworth stars as Rochelle in BBC’s Red Rose.

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While it’s certainly creepy in terms of its plotline, the way it’s shot and the stellar performances from its young cast, it’s the way Red Rose presents a premise that feels so close to a potential reality that really sends chills down your spine.

Many of us may have become more conscious of what we post on social media, but there’s still a lot left to learn about the dangers that come with suspicious software, dodgy-looking apps, cookies and camera technology. It’s the same dark premise that was the focus of Black Mirror’s iconic Shut Up And Dance episode that prompted many of us to shield our webcams. Red Rose leans into that but also highlights many of our biggest fears: having parts of our personal life put up on the internet without our knowledge. 

While it does home in on the teenage desire to create a glamorous social media façade for the sake of likes, the series does a great job of showing us just how realistic and dystopian our smartphones can be. That’s what makes it a true horror and we can’t wait to see how this intriguing series will unfold.

The first episode of Red Rose airs tonight on BBC Three at 10pm, with all episodes available to stream on BBC iPlayer now. 

Images: BBC

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