Thursday, 15 October 2009

Harper's Island Review

By now you’ll have heard of or seen the American Series Harper’s Island. The series is in the same vein as a slasher movie i.e. terrible plot, ludicrous characters and more executions than a police state. At the time of writing I’m about midseason and the characters have only just begun to realise people on the island are catching a bad case of death, so I dread to think how the writers managed to prolong this drivel for the six remaining episodes. This leads me to my first critical complaint – cumulative duration. At thirteen episodes totaling eight hours, forty minutes the series is longer than most slasher franchises even if you replace their entire cast with actors who have terrible stammers. Though I guess Americans like to pointlessly draw things out – the Bush administration being a prime example.

But before you reach the conclusion that I’m being irascible towards the show faster than Usian Bolt suffering from premature ejaculation, I would like to clarify that I enjoyed Harper’s Island. Yes really. Ok so it’s certainly not going to be the Citizen Kane of television nor will it have a profound effect on the world; but what it will do is provide entertaining escapism long enough to starve off the realisation that you’re just another gray faced drudgening proletarian drone merely procrastinating a miserable existence. Think of the show as a hybrid of Lost and Halloween with a side order of George John Haigh. This doesn’t mean it is perfect – by no means, there is plenty I want to bring it to task for, but any faults help to create a deliberate cheesy feel that most slashers possess; because to put it flippantly you’re not going to take a serial killer seriously when they go to such inordinate extremities as having a cacti come crashing down on the victim’s cranium if they so much as utter the Scottish play.

The plot, if one could call it that, is straight forward and is as follows: some years prior to the show a serial killer named John Wakefield went on a killing spree on Harper’s Island killing six denizens, including parents of some characters. Wakefield was apparently shot and killed by local sheriff Charlie Mills (Jim Beaver) whose wife was amongst those slain. Pan to the present where Charlie’s daughter Abby (Elaine Cassidy) has long since left the island but as luck would have it two of her friends – Henry Dunn (Christopher Gorham) and Trish Wellington (Katie Cassidy) are due to be married and decide to host the wedding there presumably because they associate marriage with cold merciless death. The group of friends head to the island and Abby is reunited with some of her childhood chums. Not surprisingly another series of murders begin which nobody notices as they’re too busy reminiscing or involved in an arbitrary subplot designed to elongate the secular plot. Fundamentally similar to a game of Cluedo if nobody cared and everyone dies – this actually sounds more like an emo house party.

Moving swiftly on to the characters; the next important element as characters that evoke sympathy involve us in the horror. Well the writers clearly fell at this hurdle since frankly I feel apathetic towards them because the majority are improbably good looking, offensively American and have more life experience than Idi Amin. Even Cal Vandeusen the lone Englishman is portrayed in the American interpretation – speaking as though he was plucked off the streets of Victorian Britain fresh from a spot of peasant hunting. The cast roster at twenty five people of importance is copious enough to pervade an entire football team - including reserves. As listing all the buggers would be too time consuming I’ll quickly cover the key players who I haven’t already mentioned. Firstly we have Abby’s former friends who as the morons they are have since remained on the island: bartender and biker chic Nicky (Ali Liehert), the annoying neurotic Kelly (Anna Mae Routledge) who thankfully has the lifespan of a Glaswegian house spider, the spectacularly Machiavellian Shane (Ben Cotton) and finally the shoed in love interest for Abby – Jimmy Mance (C.J Thomason) because as we all know the greatest aphrodisiac is watching your friends get slaughtered. Next the bride’s family: Thomas Wellington (Richard Bungi) the father, Shea Allen (Gina Holden) the sister, Richard Allen (David Lewis) Shea’s husband and epitome of sex offender, Madison (Cassandra Sawtell) Shea’s daughter and most unsettling child on television. This leaves JD Dunn (Dean Checkuala) Henry’s weird Adam’s family reject brother and Uncle Marty Dunn (Harry Hamlin) a Richard Branson look-alike. If you absolutely must know every character then look it up because I’m not Wikipedia.

In antecedent comments I noted that it is difficult to identify with the characters which obviously affects any pathos. It’s like they are anthropoids vaguely resembling Humans. Despite the large cast screen time doesn’t seem to be an issue as it is proportioned fairly – not that this matters when they drop like flies at a pesticide convention. The sole character I admired was the killer since he is clearly a pragmatic individual such as myself, with interesting solutions for population issues, but most importantly he brutally murders the guests who had begun to grate worse than a sandpaper g-string…not that I would know. Honestly. The slayings themselves are gratuitous such as Hunter (Victor Webster) whose head is decimated by a booby trapped sawn off or Richard Branson being emancipated from his lower regions. Rather inventively the episode titles are derived from the residual onomatopoeic sound from when the victim is killed in said episode, for example the episode ‘Crackle’ is so named because Lucy Daramour is cremated in a pit. The episode listings end up looking like a violent version of the rice crispies advert.

The script isn’t going to light the world on fire, but unlike George Bush I doubt that was the intention, and as it stands it is passable which adds to the effect because it would seem out of place if the characters began speaking as though they belong in a Jane Austin novel. The writers have managed to create a well balanced story which has equal measures of intrigue and suspense alongside the macabre. Even though I didn’t sympathise with the characters I was evidently supposed to, the show did keep me intrigued as to who was going to be luncheon meat next and I’m still none of the wiser as to who the killer is, so I suppose that can only be good. Putting it bluntly it is better than Ms Maple and just as mysterious. While droning on I should probably give kudos to the actors who for the most part were absolutely fantastic especially since the cast are largely unknown though you don’t have to be detective Frost to suspect that this won’t be the case for long.

I’m in a critical mood today, as always, so let’s continue my invective–I’ve already scrutinized cast and show length so all that is left to cover is the absurdity of the premise and much of the plot. It’s all very panto and often relies on set pieces that will make your dignity overdose for even acknowledging them, which may spoil it if you don’t leave your skepticism behind or if like me you’re simply malevolent. This is the part where I either recommend the show or condemn it to entertainment Hell, but I’m still undecided on the matter, sure I’m enjoying the programme however it seems to be something of an acquired taste. To fit it into a tractable wordbyte– you’ll enjoy this if cocktails of small talk and premeditated murder are enough to inveigle you; and that’s elementary…