Red Rose review: A so-so, occasionally sinister horror about social media

Isis Hainsworth as Rochelle in ‘Red Rose’ (BBC/Eleven Film)

An app that promises to fulfil your life’s every need? Sounds pretty alluring, especially right now. More money magically appearing on the electric meter? Yes, please. A new designer outfit for a big party? Hand it over. And the ability to get in touch with a much-missed loved one? Sign us up! However, there’s always some sort of catch to such great promises – and in Red Rose, BBC Three’s new horror series, the catch is mighty. Created by Bolton-born screenwriting duo The Clarkson Twins, the eight-part drama explores what happens when dark forces exploit social media and teenage heartbreak to tear apart the lives of a young, working-class community.

Within the first five minutes, the show’s eerie tone is set: a teenage girl jumps from a roof to her death. We don’t know why. All we can gather is that a haunting presence is watching her every move, hijacking her home appliances as they switch on and off, furiously. There’s also a weird shadow that follows right behind her at every step. It’s spooky stuff. Fast forward to six months later, and gobby GCSE student Rochelle (Isis Hainsworth) and her friends have just finished their exams. Everything in their lives seems about to shift: Wren (Amelia Clarkson) is on the edge of a romance with their other pal Noah (Harry Redding), while the rest of the crew are looking forward to their summer jobs and generally moving on from secondary school. The future is more bleak than bright for Rochelle, though – she’s still grieving her mother’s suicide a few years prior, and her family is struggling to make ends meet. In Bolton, the opportunities for change feel out of reach – or at least, a few hundred miles further south in the country – and it’s disheartening. She hides her worries with a tough, wisecracking exterior, but she’s insecure, unsure and lonely.

That’s why she’s an ideal target for mysterious app Red Rose. At first, it’s a godsend: money and clothes come easily, while her social star starts to rise. But the good times don’t last long. At the party, Red Rose prompts her to kiss Noah in front of everyone, betraying her closest friend. If she refuses, the app threatens to screen CCTV footage of her queuing at the food bank for everyone to see. She can’t bear the shame of having her peers see her struggle, so she obeys, beginning the app’s unwavering hold on her life. Soon, Red Rose has control of Rochelle’s entire virtual existence, sending alarming text messages on her behalf and making out-of-character posts on social media. Things turn chilling very quickly, and it’s up to the teens to put a stop to Red Rose’s mania before it rules them all.

In many ways, this series nails the complexities of teenage life – jealousy, angst, and the dread of “missing out” feels relatable and familiar. Its talented young cast gives life to the dialogue, making the characters feel grounded in both their playful banter and their understandable fears. Yet, Red Rose suffers from a clash of big ideas, all vying for our attention at any one time: virtual reality, ghosts, exorcisms, mental health struggles and poverty. The show seems as if it’s uncertain of what it wants to be, and in its attempt to cover all bases of the thriller genre, the story becomes fuzzy. Hainsworth is charismatic at the head of the ensemble, and you can’t help but root for her character to break free of the app’s sickening grip. But while other tech-heavy thrillers such as Black Mirror tackle several concepts at once with sophistication, this one would benefit from scaling back so we really feel the sense of panic.

Still, for all of its jarring moments, Red Rose is full of enticing intrigue; as much as the Bolton teens on screen, you’ll find yourself wanting to know who’s behind the sinister app – and how they can be stopped before anyone else gets hurt.