[TV Review] AMC’s “The Terror”

by Joe Meyers

“The Terror”

Series Premiere Air Date: March 25, 2018
Season 1 Finale Air Date: May 21, 2018

Starring:
Jared Harris as Captain Francis Crozier
Tobias Menzies as Commander James Fitzjames
Paul Ready as Dr. Harry Goodsir
Adam Nagaitis as Cornelius Hickey
Ian Hart as Thomas Blanky
Nive Nielsen as Lady Silence
Ciarán Hinds as Captain Sir John Franklin

Based on the 2007 novel, “The Terror”, by Dan Simmons

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“Based on a true story.” That line has been used on so many works of the horror genre, and beyond, that it sometimes seems like it’s lost any real meaning. However, in the case of AMC’s “The Terror”, it’s 100% earned. The series is the recounting of Captain Sir John Franklin’s expedition to the Arctic, via the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, to locate the Northwest Passage in 1845–1848. The expedition was lost, it took over the next 150 years for people to piece together the crews’ fate, and the two ships were not discovered until September 2, 2014 (the HMS Erebus) and September 12, 2016 (the HMS Terror). Of course we don’t know exactly what happened to the crew on their voyage, but Dan Simmons uses the factual information we have to create several plausible reasons in his novel for why the crew was doomed. Oh, and he also throws in a monster that stalks the crew members as they’re trapped in the icy wasteland.

The showrunners, David Kajganich and Soo Hugh, did a great job guiding the adaption of the 784 page book into a ten episode story. This was all about building atmosphere, wallowing in the dread, and allowing the characters to develop over time. The cast is outstanding, with Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Ciarán Hinds, Adam Nagaitis, and Paul Ready as clear standouts. The look of the series is quite breathtaking as well. From the opening credit animation to the set design, it all melds to feel desolate and overwhelming. This helps put you in the mindset of the characters as they struggle to survive.

The plot revolves around the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror becoming stuck in the ice pack as they search for the Northwest Passage. Things only get worse when the crews’ actions unwittingly releases a monster upon themselves. When the ice doesn’t melt enough for the ships to move on, some hard decisions are made. Further compounding their problems is the food stored for the journey may be slowly poising them as the crew begins to succumb to various symptoms. Finally they deiced to leave a small contingent behind at the ships, and the remaining crew takes off on foot in an attempt to eventually, hopefully, get rescued.

While the monster takes on way more significance in the novel, the series uses it sparingly. It delights more in using the terror of the ugliness of the human race, and the uncaring force of nature itself to create horror. So, while the monster is a threat, the greater menace is the darkness in man and the depths they’ll go to in order to survive. Make no mistake, “The Terror” is a bleak, slow burn of a character study.

I have very few complaints about the series. I do wish the monster wasn’t shown as early as it was, and the CGI used to render the creature could have used more of the budget. There was a chance to really build some tension throughout the ten episodes regarding the creature that wasn’t taken advantage of but they decided not to allow the mystery to linger. I also thought they didn’t quite convey the passage of time well. These episodes take place over the course of three years, but I think that doesn’t get shown properly to the audience. A friend I spoke with about this show actually thought they had missed an episode at once point because of this issue.

Besides that though, “The Terror” was a triumph of horror television. As with most adapted stories I prefer the source material. I’m actually glad I waited a month to write about the television series. When it first ended I was comparing to the novel too much, and time made my enjoyment of the show grow. If any of you even half way enjoyed the series, please pick up the Dan Simmons novel. It’s easily one of my favorite books over the last 15-20 years. While this tale is over, “The Terror” as a television series may not be done yet. The producers are working with AMC to see if it will be renewed. The idea is to use the series as an anthology, with each season being a self-contained, and non-connected, tale of horror. With “American Horror Story” long ago deciding to tie all of their seasons together, I welcome this idea. Everyone involved in season 1 proved they know how to put together a top notch product, and I’d love to see where they take it from here.

[TV Review] The “State of the Union” of…FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, Season 4A

by Joe Meyers

***THE FOLLOWING CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS***

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I admit I was seriously skeptical about the “crossover” with THE WALKING DEAD and FEAR THE WALKING DEAD when it was first announced. I couldn’t wrap my head around how they were going to make it work. Thankfully, any and all doubts I had about the event have been entirely erased. The new showrunners, Andrew Chambliss and Ian B. Goldberg, have course corrected the series with Season 4A of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD in a big bad way.

The start of Season 4 had us time jumping all the way to events after the Season 8 finale of THE WALKING DEAD, as Morgan (Lennie James) decides enough is enough with Rick Grimes and Company and he begins a trek out west. I’m actually glad they chose Lennie James to move to FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, because he’s such a great actor and Morgan deserves more of the spotlight than he was getting on AMC’s flagship zombie series.

Along the way we meet the rest of the new characters for this year. John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) has immediately become my favorite character in the Walking Deadverse. His sweet, odd, retired police officer, and sharpshooter worked his way into my heart from his first scene. I’m really enjoying Maggie Grace’s Al, short for Althea, as well. Having her act as a journalist, documenting the stories of people she comes across, was the perfect way to find out what happened to the core cast from the end of season 3, as well as information on some of our newcomers. Thankfully, Al is much more than just a plot device character. Topping off our new characters is the mysterious June (a.k.a. Naomi, a.k.a. Laura), played by Jenna Elfman, who ends up being a major player in the show’s new direction.

Eventually John Dorie, Al, and Morgan run into the old guard of Alicia Clark (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Victor Strand (Colman Domingo), Luciana Galvez (Danay García), and Nick Clark (Frank Dillane) all looking worse for wear. I enjoyed the interactions between the two groups, and this is where the season really kicks off. We have several different plot threads running across two timelines for this first half of the season. We find out John Dorie is looking for the love of his life, who up and left him one day. Over the course of several episodes we get more information on “Naomi”/”Laura”/June, and find out she’s the one John Dorie’s been looking for. Alicia, Victor, Luciana, and Nick’s journey from the end of season 3 until now gets teased out through the entirety of season 4A, with the culmination of the story ending at the close of the mid-season finale.

Over the course of the first eight episode, we lose two major characters who’ve been with us since the start of the series. The first to meet his end is Nick Clark. Now, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this character at the beginning, but I grew to really enjoy him on the series. I was unaware that Frank Dillane had requested to be written out of the show, so Nick’s death was a total shock to me. His exit really reminded me of Tyrese’s good-bye seasons ago in THE WALKING DEAD. While it was alluded to over the course of these eight episodes, the fate of Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) was held until the mid-season finale. I don’t think it was a shock to anyone that Madison was dead with the way the older group were acting, and the fact she was only seen in the flashback plot. Unlike Dillane, Kim Dickens did not ask to leave the show as it’s been revealed the new showrunners made the call to shake things up.

I know both of these deaths have angered some longtime fans, but I welcomed them. It truly does show that on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD everyone truly is in danger. Now I want to tune in every week because I’m unsure of what will happen next. This has sorely been lacking in THE WALKING DEAD for some time, and I hope they take a page from this series when they return for season 9 at the end of the year. As for FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, this is now “must see TV” for me, and I can’t wait for the mid-season premiere for episode 9 on August 12th, 2018.

 

[Film Review] Hereditary

by Joe Meyers

Written and Directed by Ari Aster

Starring:

Toni Collette as Annie
Gabriel Byrne as Steve
Alex Wolff as Peter
Milly Shapiro as Charlie

Release date: June 8, 2018
Run time: 2h 7min
Rated: R

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Have you ever been in your bed at night, and were suddenly convinced someone, or something!, was lurking in the darkness just waiting for the perfect moment to get you? Those moments where you hear noises behind you and your imagination runs wild with what it could be. Those goose-bump causing, adrenaline pumping seconds between thinking you see something in the corner of your room and realizing it’s the pile of laundry you put in your chair. Those terrifying occasions where your fear causes your heart to beat so loudly you think it can be heard from the other side of the house, and your mouth goes dry just as that bone-chilling tingle radiates throughout your entire body…that’s what HEREDITARY was for me.

In his first feature film, writer-director Ari Aster has crafted a horror movie that stands shoulder to shoulder with recent genre entries like THE BABADOOK, THE WITCH, and IT COMES AT NIGHT. The movie tells the story of the Graham family hurtling into a downward spiral after the death of their matriarch. That is all of the plot I’ll mention in this review, as this is a film best seen with as little information as you possibly can. I’d managed to avoid the majority of the hype surrounding its festival screenings, and all reviews prior to seeing it last Thursday night. I’m thrilled I went in without any real knowledge, or expectations, about the movie.

Aster is masterful as a writer-director here, and anything he does going forward will be on my radar. HEREDITARY is a slow burn family drama built on bleak tension, creepy moments, and oppressive dread. It won’t be for everyone, but people who love that type of horror should be thrilled. The movie doesn’t rely on jump scares, instead giving the viewer a plethora of creepy scenes that the camera lingers on. You don’t get quick edits where you’re on to the next thing here. No, Aster makes you wallow in the moment, he draws you into the film, and you experience the events along with the characters. It’s been a while since a movie has gotten under my skin, and into my brain, like this one has.

Speaking of the look of the film, Cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski has put together a beautiful movie. Much of it takes place at night, and there’s many moments of something just being on the cusp of coming out of the darkness that’s done amazingly. The way the shots are framed just draws you in, and you can’t help but feel terror for the characters involved. The production design by Grace Yun, art direction by Richard T. Olson and the work of art department, and set decoration by Brian Lives are all glorious as well. They had to build the house that’s in the film from scratch, and the fantastic job they did shines through in every frame.

Colin Stetson’s score was nearly a character all on its own. It’s stunning, haunting, and used perfectly throughout the movie. The score combined with the sound design helps push you into that dreadful, creepy feeling for nearly the entirety of the film’s run time. I know A QUIET PLACE, deservedly, gets praise for its sound design, but I think HEREDITRY is neck and neck with that movie. If you see it at the cinema, grab a seat in the middle-middle of the auditorium and let the sounds envelope you as the horror unfolds before you.

Finally, I have to talk about the cast led by the brilliant Toni Collette, as Annie. There’s been chatter about her getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work here. I’m hopeful what GET OUT did at the Oscars last year will leave that door open for her this year. She’s utterly impressive and amazing in this role. Right there with her for me was Alex Wolff, playing her son Peter. I wasn’t familiar with him before seeing HEREDITARY but he does incredible work here. He does some seriously emotional heavy lifting in the role. Rounding out the family is Milly Shapiro, as the quirky and creepy daughter, Charlie, and Gabriel Byrne as the husband and father, Steve. Shaprio immediately enters the list of all-time creep kids in horror movies for me. What she can do with just a sound, a facial expression, or a body movement is impressive in building her character. While Byrne doesn’t get some of the meaty moments, he deftly handles the role of the family member trying to hold everything together as he watches it slip through his fingers.

As with all horror, this is super subjective. What I find terrifying, creepy, and nightmare inducing you may fund dull and boring. Earlier in this review I mentioned THE BABADOOK, THE WITCH, and IT COMES AT NIGHT. If you were a fan of any of those movies I think HEREDITARY might be your bag too. For me, this has become my favorite film at the near halfway point of 2018 and I can’t wait to see it again.