Bobbi Johnson (Hannah Arterton) started a revolution completely by accident when she wrote a bestselling book called Bite the Hand and has been labouring under the infamy ever since. She wanted nothing to do with the subsequent riots and social unrest that her writings spawned, but as it is her main source of income and the royalties have not gone as far as she would have liked now her power has been turned off for non-payment of bills, she really should be penning her follow-up. She contacts her publisher, Jordan (Belinda Stewart-Wilson) and asks her to pay those bills so in return she can create that new book, but there is a caveat: Jordan wants to keep a very close watch on Bobbi's progress...
The main metaphor put across here in writer Dan Schaffer and director Paul Hyett's Peripheral was one of comparing the act of artistic creativity to making a baby: the initial conception should be enjoyable, but the process of bringing it into the world can be a lot less pleasurable. But they went further than simply having their protagonist staring at blank pages or scrolling through social media waiting for inspiration to strike, thanks to a monstrous computer the publishers insist Bobbi types on. The reason for this is to mould the book closer to what will be commercial, as when she hammers away on that keyboard for a while she finds her text is being altered and "improved" on.
She's understandably not happy about that, but she's not happy about a lot of things, and this is just one damn thing after another for a woman who has partly been forced to become a hermit in the city, and partly isolated herself deliberately, having had a taste of society at its least forgiving and not wanted to be a participant any longer. However, that need to express herself looms over her every day and guides her, perhaps reluctantly, back to the screen, though she wrote the original tome on a trusty typewriter, suggesting a Luddite approach to the film was intended, or at least one with extreme scepticism as to the worth of being in constant contact with the technological world.
But the team behind this went so far in their technophobia that the film threatened to become rather daft as it bolstered its metaphor for Bobbi's act of creation with a scene of her having sex with her deadbeat ex-boyfriend (Elliott James Langridge) - with her underwear on, so any prurience comes from the clips the computer trawls the internet for – to actually having sex with the computer itself in an unlikely and possibly dreamt sequence lifted from Donald Cammell's more visionary than many would like to admit Demon Seed. They just about get away with this with a straight face, but when Bobbi becomes pregnant with the ultimate result of that, you may burst out laughing at its depiction, which was presumably not the reaction the filmmakers desired. This was all tied in with jabs at the surveillance culture we are all buckling under.
So Peripheral had a lot on its plate, not least when Bobbi acquires a fan/stalker (Rosie Day) who posts videotapes through her letterbox to get her attention, though of course, as VHS is almost obsolete, there's no way for Bobbi to play them (cue a helpful, cannabis-using tech guy). This was an aspect of creativity, in that you have no real control over how what you have made is embraced or rejected, or what its influence may be, but it did stretch the themes to snapping point. Luckily, Arterton was suitably brittle and borderline self-destructive to be a compelling figure even as the drama turned outlandish around her, useful when it was a one-woman show for much of the running time, but what it eventually came across as was a distaff horror version of the old eighties cult favourite Electric Dreams, which had an obsessed AI that only wanted to help, only here there are menacing forces at work behind the close tabs Bobbi's machine keeps on her we are intended to take away some lessons on society about. Crazy, but just about holds together. Music by Si Begg.