Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que :: 13 Episodes. 25 Suspects. One Killer : Ari Schlossberg's Harper's Island (2009)

"My name is Abby Mills, and I've come home to Harper's Island. My best friend is getting married to the girl of his dreams. But not everything about this trip is a celebration. Seven year's ago I left this place after John Wakefield murdered six people. My mother was one of them. Everyone else has moved on, believes the killings are in the past, but I can't help feel there's more to come."

OK, folks ... What large rock was I living under back in 2009 that caused me to completely miss the boat on, let's just call it what it is, a 13 hour-long slasher movie? Make no mistake: that's what Harper's Island is, and, apparently, exactly what the creators of the 13 episode mini-series wanted it to be: Wes Craven's Scream by way of Agatha Christie's And then There Were None. Hardly original, true, but definitely intriguing in this expanded but still self-contained format. And being the slasher junkie that I am I'd say it was more like Fred Walton's April Fool's Day, plot wise, but only this time there is no "just kidding" denouement to make the viewer the fool. Granted, the ending of Harper's Island does have some problems, but we're getting ahead of ourselves a little bit.

The prologue provided by our cute-as-a-button protagonist, Abby Mills (Cassiday), pretty much sets things up quick and neat and it doesn't take long before we get our first kill of the series as the blissfully unaware wedding party ferries over to the (if it wasn't apparent enough already) cursed Island, where, after seven years, the killing spree picks up where Wakefield left off. And as we slowly work through the guest list we're given some wonderfully deliberate hints that there are closets full of skeletons, malicious secrets, and plenty of shady shenanigans going on to cast a well-deserved stink-eye on all, making everyone involved a possible or probable suspect. And as the cast is picked off, one by one, there are even hints that Wakefield, allegedly killed by the local sheriff (also Abby's estranged father), might not be so dead after all.

And to [series creator] Schlossberg's credit he is able to maintain this juggling act by piling up all kinds of twists, misdirections, or [too] damning evidence, making it harder for the audience to sniff out the true culprit amidst the overwhelming stench of herring gone red. Apparently, no one in the cast new when or if they were gonna die until the current episode was filmed. Even the person playing the killer didn't know theydunit until that episode was filmed as well. (And that very first water-themed kill is a pretty big clue. Not to the who the killer is but the high probability that there is more than one nutcase running loose, making things even more interesting to suss out.) Most of the characters are rote, glorified caricatures, really, but thanks to the format we get more familiar with them than normal, more invested, and thanks to an enthusiastic cast, as a result, I wasn't openly rooting for any of them to get killed, which also gave each passing death a bit more punch, some of them even teeter toward devastating. And for being something filmed for network TV, all of the deaths are so deliciously gruesome one has to wonder how in the hell they managed to get the majority of them passed the censors.

Again, this hardly original and those well versed in slasher lore could easily name the source of all the separate ingredients for this recipe, and you will either enjoy all the familiar peas and carrots thrown in the pot or turn a self-righteous nose elsewhere. Frankly, I found the resultant stew to be quite tasty and after 13 servings I was quite full, thank you. Sure, the series was more fun and worked better when the audience didn't know whodunit yet and loses most of it's bite once the killer is revealed; and if I have one complaint, this happens way too early, leaving things to flounder a bit as the killer basically mops up for the last four or five installments before, yeah, falling completely on its face in the last episode. But, after such a great build up, I'm even willing to let that slide.

Love the idea. Love the format. And I would love to see more of the same, but I doubt that will ever happen. See, apparently,
I wasn't the only one living under that rock back in '09 either as the ratings for Harper's Island were so abysmal it found itself moved from an initial Thursday night time-slot to Saturday, a virtual death-sentence when you consider its target audience. The mini-series seems to be gaining some traction with horror aficionados since its DVD release, however, and it's currently available for streaming on Netflix, where I happily stumbled upon it when the service recommended it to me because, I know you'll be shocked to hear it, but, I like "Violent and Gory" movies. Heh. Sometimes Netflix is so smart it scares me.

Harper's Island (2009) Junction Entertainment-CBS Paramount Network Television / D: Sanford Bookstaver, Rick Bota, Steve Boyum / W: Ari Schlossberg / C: Robert McLachlan / E: Jonathan Chibnall, Monty DeGraff, David Handman / P: Jeffrey Bell, Jon Turteltaub / S: Elaine Cassidy, Christopher Gorham, Katie Cassidy, Matt Barr, Gina Holden, Jim Beaver


Anonymous said...

My old roommate and slasher movie watching partner Dr. Kimenstein caught this when it was airing and begged me to watch it, too, but I am horrible at remembering to watch TV. I will need to check it out.

W.B. Kelso said...

I found the thing to be a total blast, Tim. Again, the build up is better than the payoff, I think, but its still well worth the investment.

Tim said...

Excellente, I will add it to "The List".

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