In his first film, writer/performer Byron Vincent rips a hole into the echo chamber of post-truth social media. This multimedia film was broadcast as part of Southbank Centre’s Unlimited Festival on 15 – 17 January 2021. Review by Natasha Sutton Williams
Warning: This review contains spoilers!
Using split screen, face-to-camera monologues, animation, social media posts, downloaded WhatsApp histories, pulsating anxiety triggers and pop culture images, Byron Vincent uses his tangled love life as a vessel to understand the manipulation, deception, and erosion of mental health caused by social media.
The form of the piece is inherently ironic. Originally, Vincent had envisioned the work as a stage show, utilising the theatrics of live performance to shine a light on his palpable distaste of society’s dependence on digital platforms to communicate. However, once the pandemic hit, he had to adapt the show and embrace the digital form of filmmaking to get his message across. The end result is rib tickling, at times outrageous, and genuinely surprising.
Vincent begins the film stating “This is a true story” and that not all narrators are reliable. What ensues is a forensic dissection of his monogamous relationship with his long-term girlfriend and their increasingly toxic attachment to one another, burgeoning from their mutual experience of childhood trauma. Vincent describes himself as a historical drug addict with bipolar disorder and PTSD, who wears his “council estate masculinity” on his sleeve. He pokes fun at himself throughout, conjuring himself as a sardonic yet starkly honest narrator, mining his personal tragedies for comic effect.
The film has an intentionally slow build up. At first, one might wonder why Vincent goes into such scrupulous detail about the microscopic machinations of his relationship as trust with his partner breaks down. The instigating incident: his girlfriend reveals she’s contracted chlamydia from a one-night stand. Vincent bears all to the viewer, providing intimate information about his girlfriend. Text messages, social media posts, even censored nude photographs illustrate what he presents as her increasing duplicity towards him. We even hear recordings of his therapist discussing why he has engaged in a conveyor belt of unhealthy relationships. As a viewer you begin to wonder at what point – if at all – has consent been given to mine his girlfriend’s personal life for Vincent’s artistic output. What feels like an ethically questionable artistic endeavour is ultimately flipped on its head.
The drama escalates. Vincent discovers that his girlfriend’s one-night stand is actually an on-going affair with a hench bodybuilder named Bas who works as the doorman at his girlfriend’s workplace. Comparing himself to this mass of muscle, Vincent states, “I am the DeVito to his Schwarzenegger in Twins”. To make matters worse, Vincent begins stalking Bas online and in person, taking photos of himself at Bas’ front door.
The stakes rise again with a phone conversation with Bas, where Vincent informs him that his girlfriend has been cheating on both of them. Bas informs Vincent that she is actually in his bathroom as they speak, and he has her phone next to him. With questionable intent, Vincent gives Bas her passcode and Bas proceeds to download her entire WhatsApp history, revealing that she has been having unprotected sex with seven other men who are clueless of one another’s existence. Bas organises an all-male intervention to confront the girlfriend at their joint workplace.
On the day of the intervention, only four guys show up (including Vincent who is filming it all), yet Bas hasn’t been heard from in hours. As the girlfriend walks in to see the four men sitting there, Vincent completely upends the narrative. He reveals that this ‘true story’ has been faked. The woman in question is in fact his real-life fiancé. She has been a willing actor the whole time.
In one fell swoop, Vincent’s artistic intent crashes nimbly into place. Instagramming the Apocalypse is an allegory for the trust we place in social media and how it can manipulate us into reaching increasingly problematic heights with our thoughts and actions.
There is a combined thrill and horror when you realise you have been lied to as an audience member. Vincent’s pulling of the rug is hugely effective, frankly shocking and makes the viewer rake over the film’s entire content in light of this watershed moment. This dexterous twist in the narrative proves Vincent’s ability to sculpt dramatic narrative, and makes him a serious talent to contend with.