AMC’s, “The Terror”, shows promise by delivering a chilling atmosphere through set design and character development, but still feels underwhelming due to its main focus being a poorly-designed monster.
This ongoing show is based on a novel by Dan Simmons which is a fictional telling of a real-life event from British history. Two royal ships (the HMS Erebus and Terror) traveled across the Arctic to find the Northwest passage, but their fates were unknown for years.
The first episode was just a contextual overload, getting all the setting and characters introduced while also placing the catalyst that would set in motion the meat of the plot. Unfortunately, they sacrificed having a gripping hook that would keep audiences around. Jamming so much information into just the first episode felt unneeded, and the stakes didn’t feel as impactful as a result.
For any who stayed past the second episode, the conflict picks up and the real draw finally makes itself known; the crews aren’t just stuck on ice in the freezing cold, but are also being hunted by a monster. Now the stakes really make sense, but it felt a little late to say the least.
Though the monster is an intriguing point of interest, you really only get to see glimpses of it through use of wide shots that either quickly graze the view of it or simply cloak the beast under heavy snowfall. This was a positive attribute that allowed viewers to imagine what the beast truly looked like, which added to the horror behind it for we naturally fear the unknown.
Where it lost this praise was when they decided to show the beast; it just looks like an oversized polar bear with some serious anger issues. Granted, there is story relevance for this and it’s unknown how many more episodes are to be released, but for how little has happened so far, it felt too early to disclose its design.
Not only that but it was entirely composed of CGI, and not in the good way. AMC has had success implementing both CGI and practical effects through make-up design to create visually grotesque zombies in their other show, “The Walking Dead.” Surely, it couldn’t have been that far of a stretch to make the beast look plausibly real while side-by-side with the actors comparatively.
This point is proven once actual gore is displayed on the screen, for many characters get brutally massacred and their injuries are on par with some of their best make-up work yet. All of this could have been forgivable had the monster actually been interesting to look at, and it seems there weren’t enough artistic liberties to fulfill this.
Though, the beast did have one redeeming quality. It sets a tone that’s less like a monster movie and more like that of serial killer film. It’s not just a beast slashing through its victims without thought, but as the story unfolds, it’s realized that this thing is very methodical in its delivered kills, striving to leave gruesome displays that are meant to intimidate the crew as well as viewers.
Speaking of the crew, another aspect that was done well were the reflections built off how the men reacted. There is a separation among all of them that span from ranking to nationality, and it’s thrilling to see how individual members cope with the events happening around them.
For example, Captain Francis Crozier remains to be a very important character for the show. At the beginning he is considered to be very rational and is the voice of reason for a previous captain. As time goes on and things get worse, he drinks more frequently giving us a view of his vulnerabilities. By creating this depth to characters like him, we begin to further understand the weight of the terror being unleashed.
Set and costume design were also done authentically. You could distinguish a common shipmate from an officer, and the ship was built with all the standard qualities one would come to expect from the 1800s. This was important considering this is still based on real ships that took sail, and historical accuracy was needed to sell the time period for viewers.
Dialogue was also filled with old English and naval terminology for accuracy’s sake. Though this had two opposing effects; on one hand, actors more easily melded with the atmosphere around them, but on the other other hand this would alienate the audience for not understanding everything that’s being discussed. It felt frustrating having to translate many things that were said on screen.
With all of this in mind, “The Terror” unfortunately didn’t measure up to the expectations set across multiple AMC shows. Though the potential to be great is there, for now it stands at a measly C rating for having many good qualities barred down by one terrible monster.