The Terror (2018)

terrormThis was the stuff of nightmares, but in a good way, you understand- this 2018 (how have I never heard of this?) miniseries currently airing here in the UK on BBC2 (and available to watch in its entirety on iPlayer) is absolutely terrific stuff. Its a claustrophobic, moody, tense and incredibly disturbing period horror which spins a supernatural take on a real historic tragedy. I devoured the whole thing over three days and while its not perfect (it slides downhill slightly over the last two episodes) it remains superior drama in my eyes. Absolutely recommended, albeit I must admit, it cast a disturbing shadow on some of my dreams for a few nights- perhaps bingeing the show wasn’t such a good idea after all. Its not often a tv show can give me nightmares, but this actually did. Its not that the series is especially terrifying but it is genuinely, absolutely relentless in how its dark mood and feeling of horror gradually gnaws at you. This is horror with a capital ‘H’.

The cast in particular is top-notch: Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Ciarán Hinds, Clive Russell… these are some of my favourite actors and they are are on very fine form in this- perhaps inspired by the remarkable premise, the performances form a solid foundation for the series and aided by the excellent production design its all very convincing: so much so that any miss-steps in the script are easily forgiven and quickly forgotten. 

I absolutely adored the convincing sense of time and place, a tangible sensation of being in that place, that moment. The atmosphere of growing doom and characters being caught in something out of their control – and knowing that the whole thing is based upon real events (ignoring the supernatural element that is perfectly fine albeit actually superfluous, as it turns out), I don’t think I’ve quite enjoyed a drama as much as this since Chernobyl. I was actually familiar with the historical events that the series is based upon and I was pleasantly surprised by how the series was true to most of the historically-accepted events, how sincere and respectful it was, how authentic it seemed. It could have spun the real-life tragedy into a trashy exploitation yarn, but its much more than that. Its very, very good indeed. Barring that finale it could have been a masterpiece- as it is, its not far off.

Everything Jared Harris touches in television seems to turn to gold, doesn’t it. A phenomenal actor, is there anything he cannot do? I think he’d be enthralling just reading a shopping list.

The Quiet Ones (2014)

q12016.76: The Quiet Ones (Film Four)

Its  another October horror film, and this one’s a horror for all the wrong reasons.

Its an odd one in so many ways. Partly it’s a period film, of demonic possession obviously inspired by The Exorcist, albeit with a more scientific bias akin to Altered States (I know, I know, at this point it actually sounds like it might be interesting), and its also one of those found-footage character POV films like Blair Witch Project and the early REC. films. Its a weird combo that doesn’t really work. It certainly doesn’t need any of that found-footage nonsense – the conceit of all those found-footage films is that they are based on camcorder footage or webcams etc, which is a hard sell set in the ‘seventies with a character lugging around film reels, projectors and a bloody big film camera. The whole point of that found-footage movie genre was that thanks to modern everyday technology they were somehow realistic/rational, setting it up in the 1970s is a bit of a stretch.

So the film is basically about a  young girl, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) who is either mentally ill or possessed, and is the subject of experiments by obsessed Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris chewing up the scenery like a storm) who rather than subscribe to paranormal explanations such as demonic possession, rather subscribes to it being a quantifiable mental or physical disorder that can be extracted and cured. Cue all sorts of mad scientist cliches as Coupland refuses to ‘see’ anything that doesn’t agree with his own hypothesis. Of course being a modern horror film there is no pretense of ambiguity here, which is a pity, as the central drama is interesting. A film about scientists arguing about what they believe/reason/see from differing perspectives while all sorts of strange shit is going on, a sort of horror-themed Altered States, would indeed be very interesting and possibly quite challenging had it stayed ambiguous and possibly even inconclusive to the end, but filmgoers don’t like ambiguity or having to come to their own conclusions. So instead, and this being, at its heart, very much a Hammer film, its fairly obvious to everyone but the characters in the bloody movie what is actually going on.

It doesn’t help that, on the whole, none of the characters are particularly interesting. There’s all sorts of varied relationship nonsense amongst the ensemble which adds nothing to the story other than padding out the running time. The period setting doesn’t in itself have any importance either, other than perhaps making the science basic enough to maintain the ‘mystery’ a little longer (we don’t have the internet or mobile phones to make life awkward for the screenwriters).

Which is really the confounding thing about it- why indeed set it in the ‘seventies (lots of period pop songs infect the soundtrack if only to enforce the period setting) and why bother with the found footage nonsense if it’s so technically awkward? You could tell this story in the present-day and still get away with it. Maybe its all a ruse to maintain a ‘based on a true story’ subterfuge to keep audiences hooked. I don’t know, but none of it really works. Ambiguity is lost and things become increasingly literal and obvious as the film progresses towards its non-climax. Well, I say non-climax; its loud and violent but it’s quite emphatically non-involving.

A rather sad stumbling block then for what was a promising Hammer revival.