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Film / Cyberbully (2015)

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Cyberbully is a 2015 film starring Maisie Williams. The film focuses on Casey Jacobs, a teenage girl who finds herself accused of cyberbullying by an unknown culprit.

Not to be confused with the 2011 ABC Family film starring Emily Osment.

The 2015 film contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Played with. Casey's dad can be heard outside her room trying to help her, but (under threat from the hacker,) she pushes him away until the end when she calls for him and he comes rushing to her. Still, the fact that he doesn't actually come into the (unlocked) room when she's obviously distraught and known to be on antidepressants could certainly be held against him.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Communication comes through a computer, but the menace of this trope is very much in play for most of the film. Realizing that actually this trope is not in play and the hacker doesn't actually have any power when Casey stops talking to him breaks his hold over her.
  • Ambiguous Gender: The hacker uses a male computer-generated voice for most of the conversation with Casey (briefly switching to a female one precisely to confuse the issue), but Casey seems to think it more likely that he's a man.
  • An Aesop: Cyberbullies have no power if you stop talking to them, or as Casey herself put it, "rule number one; don't feed the troll".
  • Attention Whore: The hacker. His Villainous Breakdown begins the second Casey starts ignoring him.
  • Battle of Wits: Though she spends a lot of the time scared and on the back foot, when an opportunity comes for Casey to use her brain, she fully exploits it.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Casey admits that, if someone bullied her little brother the way Jennifer was bullied, she'd want revenge too.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Casey is accused of being this as she tries to work out who the hacker is. When she thinks it might be Jennifer Li or one of her loved ones, Casey makes suitably remorseful-sounding apologies, but when the hacker says he doesn't believe her sincerity, Casey immediately snaps out a vicious retort. Casey's sorrow over Jennifer Li's suicide is clearly totally genuine, however.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Casey allows the hacker to expose said pictures, but they aren't going to control the emotional reactions of her family and loved ones and promptly cuts him/her off, knowing that without her talking to them, they are nothing. Even though Casey wins in the end, it's obvious she's going to need way more therapy and deal with the real life harassment because of her ordeal.
  • Bottle Episode: Enforced Trope. The film takes place entirely in Casey's bedroom, because the hacker is fully aware that the second Casey leaves the room or someone else joins her, his power will be broken. Consequently, he repeatedly ensures this doesn't happen.
  • Cliffhanger: We have no idea what happens after Casey calls out for her dad. We have no idea if the hacker is tracked down and arrested for what he's done, we have no idea if he's pushed other people to suicide.
  • Computer Voice: The hacker talks to her with a computer generated voice that he describes as sounding like "a constipated Stephen Hawking". The fact it speaks what he types later gives Casey a clue to his identity.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Casey being targeted by the hacker and the suspense over whether she will actually survive the night is only possible because she was Jennifer Li's first troll, she has a bottle of antidepressants on hand, and her father (despite obviously knowing something's wrong), does not actually force his way into the unlocked room.
    • Somewhat justified; given the hacker's abilities to take over her computer and watch her through the cam, it's implied s/he could have been spying on her a long time before selecting her as the next victim. Casey also manages to keep her father out of the room at one point by holding the door shut and claiming she's getting changed.
    • Also, there just so happens to be a video of Casey and Megan mocking one of their friends and calling her out for being a lesbian, as well as footage of them sending messages to Jennifer. Why would they bother recording and saving something like that?
  • Cyberbullying: The film is about a teenage girl who finds herself accused of cyberbullying by an unknown culprit and how this event devastated her, no matter if she finally could find the culprit with the help of a Playful Hacker.
  • Darker and Edgier: Most definitely compared to the 2011 version, intensified by a more suspenseful tone (with a one-room setting ala 12 Angry Men)
  • Driven to Suicide: Jennifer Li was eventually pushed into suicide by the relentless trolling and hate she received over her singing videos. The hacker accuses Casey of being the cause of it since she was Jennifer's first troll, while Casey retorts that while she started it, she stopped long before Jennifer's suicide.
    • While Casey's dangerous overdose of antidepressants is done under blackmail and is thus not this trope, the hacker plays on her terror of her life being not worth living to push her further.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Tamara, a mutual friend of Casey and Megan's, after the hacker gets his hands on some incriminating videos.
  • Foreshadowing: Casey contemptuously says Jennifer shouldn't have responded to her trolling because everybody knows "rule number one; don't feed the troll". Applying this to herself is the way she eventually wins.
    • At the very beginning of the movie, Casey begins playing some music on her laptop, when the song suddenly changes. Twice. This is a very early hint that somebody has hacked into her computer and is messing with her.
  • Hollywood Hacking: Averted. The hacker does nothing that a skilled real-life hacker couldn't do, and is all the more paranoia-inducing because of it.
  • Hostage Situation: Casey is basically being forced to stay online with the hacker, not leave the room, and not communicate with anyone through any means if she wants to keep her loved ones and herself from being exposed on the Web. By the end, she chooses to let her pictures be posted online and walks out of the room.
  • Insult of Endearment: Casey and Megan both use "bitch" as a term of affection. A mutual friend comments on this, with Casey being surprised that he doesn't realise it's not meant as an insult. Though, this is because someone was posing as him.
  • It Amused Me: Presumably the reason why the hacker was going after Casey. The hacker isn't related to Jennifer Li in any way and they have also trolled Jennifer.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: The hacker also posts topless pictures of Megan when Casey refuses to take additional pills. The fact that Casey lets him post the pictures of Megan, but complies when the threat relates to pictures of herself, does not go unremarked by the hacker.
  • Job Title: Also a One-Word Title and a Protagonist Title.
  • Jump Scare: Casey realizes she's not dealing with a Playful Hacker when he makes an image of a demonic face suddenly appear on her screen.
  • Kick the Dog: The girls at Jennifer Li's new school dressed up as her for Halloween.
  • Lack of Empathy: Despite the Hacker constantly chiding Casey for not sounding sincere enough when apologising about her involvement in Jennifer Li's bullying, he bullied Jennifer to far worse levels than Casey and mocks her during her Heroic BSoD and when she sheds Tears of Remorse over Jennifer Li's suicide.
    • When Casey threatens to write down his username for the police to find, the Hacker responds, "Maybe. But you'll be dead. I still win."
  • Manipulative Bastard: The hacker, so much. He repeatedly threatens to post videos and pictures of her friends if she doesn't do what he says. He stays true to his word and posts a few nude pictures of her best friend and a video of her friend Tamara coming out. His control over her starts to slip towards the end and he tries making her stay by promising to reveal his identity.
  • Moving the Goalposts: The hacker orders Casey to take more of her antidepressant pills than is safe in exchange for him not posting topless pictures of her online. He initially says she needs to take one pill for each of the five pictures, but later includes pictures of Megan in that as well, since he knows that taking five pills won't hurt her too much.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Sort of. Casey is genuinely horrified by Jennifer Li's suicide, and acknowledges her own role in starting it, but repeatedly refutes the hacker's claims that she is solely responsible, because she stopped long before Jennifer got pushed that far.
  • Never My Fault: The hacker accuses Casey of this, though considering what the hacker does, the audience is likely to agree with Casey's point that it's unfair to blame Jennifer's suicide entirely on her since she only started the bullying and stopped before it escalated.
  • Noodle Incident: So what exactly did Nathan's mum do in Weston Supemare?
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Subverted. The hacker at first says he's only doing what Casey herself did when she trolled other accounts, but it becomes clear this isn't true as Casey becomes genuinely remorseful over the consequences of her actions, while the hacker sadistically pushes her further and further.
  • Oh, Crap!: Casey has one whenever the hacker reveals a new weapon in his arsenal or escalates his demands.
  • One-Word Title: As it's Protagonist Title and a Job Title.
  • Playful Hacker: Casey asks a friend to help her hijack her ex-boyfriend's social media account as revenge for cruel comments he wrote about her, but he refuses. The antagonist later lets her do this while pretending to be her friend, but he is anything but playful.
  • Portmantitle: As the title is the compound word, "Cyberbully".
  • The Power of Trust: Casey discovering that Megan trusts Casey enough to know that she would never send that hurtful material herself and that she must have been hacked arrests Casey's downward spiral, and lets her drag herself back up.
  • Protagonist Title: Casey did troll Jennifer Li, and she is the protagonist.
  • Serial Killer: By the end of the film, Casey suspects that the hacker deliberately finds and trolls people to suicide, making him the cyber equivalent of this.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: Or rather "don't feed the troll", the cyber equivalent of this trope.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of Casey's own troll posts was related to a girl making a fool of herself while talking about removing a bottle cap, likely a nod to the 2011 film.
    • The hacker quotes Dirty Harry's famous "do I feel lucky?" speech, but with Casey's pills instead of bullets.
  • Smug Snake: The hacker's Villainous Breakdown makes it clear this is all he is.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: All Casey needs to do is close the computer and stop talking to him, but his threats to upload pictures that he has already gotten prevent her from doing this. Eventually, she does precisely this whatever the consequences.
  • Stalker without a Crush: The hacker at first claims to be "a fan" of Casey's posts, and during their first, apparently harmless, chat, Casey clearly thinks he might be this because she carefully avoids signing her posts with a kiss to avoid encouraging him. Later, he's shown to be a particularly sadistic troll.
  • Stress Vomit: Casey ends up vomiting out the overdose of antidepressants she recently took as a reaction to the stress, though in this case it's very definitely to her advantage, as well as giving her an opportunity to take a second to think things through.
  • Totally Radical: Averted. Williams herself and the director's teenage daughter were both consulted to make sure the teenage slang is accurate. When someone uses out-of-date or strange-sounding language, Casey quickly picks up on it, allowing her to guess at the hacker's age and eventually make a good guess at his identity by the fact that he types "har" instead of "ha" because he's so used to using the Computer Voice software.
  • Troll: The hacker is one of the most sadistic to ever appear. Casey herself has done it, though more out of thoughtlessness of the consequences than deliberate malicious sadism.
  • The Unreveal: The hacker's identity is never revealed and Casey eventually realizes it doesn't matter.
  • Vague Age: Casey has various ideas at different points of the film about how old the hacker is, though she's pretty confident he's not a teenager due to the outdated slang he uses.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The hacker's responses become more childish and sloppily typed when Casey makes a good guess as to who he might be and when Casey starts to ignore him and move away, he eventually offers to tell her who he really is if she stays in the room.
  • Wham Line: Two:
    • In Jennifer Li's "Stop The Hate" video, she said that singing reminded her of her mother who passed away from ovarian cancer.
    • An early one occurs when Alex says, "We sit next to each other in English!", which signifies this is not Casey's friend at all.