Several decades ago, Stanley Milgram found that under certain conditions, people were prepared to electrocute someone else, if they were ordered to do so. In his new special, Derren Brown tried to prove the power of social conformity once again with an audaciously engineered deception designed to convince someone to push a guy off a building.
Brown is no stranger to the world of persuading people to do, say or think something, but the mentalist’s act is at its best here. He always manages to keep the focus less on the actual deceit or trick, and more on the end result, whether that’s debunking faith healing or cheating death. Here, though, that end result carries more weight and importance: he’s demonstrating a human ability to conform under pressure that has been proven by both science and, tragically, history. It’s only fitting that the original title of this special, first broadcast on Channel 4, was “Pushed to the Edge”.
That’s not to say that The Push – as Netflix has rebranded it, following a deal with Brown to distribute his magic worldwide – isn’t an easy watch. The production value is superb, with the hour-long ordeal playing out like a heist, from the music to the editing. All the while, Brown provides a funny commentary over the top. That uneven tone only serves to make you feel more uneasy, as the stakes escalate and the subtle set-up slowly shifts the power balance away from our subject. The result is a string of cliffhangers and revelations that makes for a gripping (and unsettling) watch. No matter how uncomfortable you get, The Push just keeps pulling you in.
Derren Brown: The Push is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.