Saturday, 2 September 2017

Fear The Walking Dead Season 1 - review

2015 (USA)

2015 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment Blu-ray R(Free)

Contains mild spoilers.

Say what you will, as to whether AMC and Robert Kirkman should have ever gone ahead with yet another unapologetic heavy post-apocalyptic zombie drama at a time the phenomenon was beginning to show signs of consumer fatigue. Then also perhaps overlook the rather trite moniker. The fact that we have got yet another big budget and meticulous zombie spectacular, no less, right back to the beginning, with all the confusion, discovery and false hope this brings, is a joy to behold. Where-as it's big brother is now nearly a constant slog of dark and bleak, but no less agreeable, with other humans the increasing major threat, it's refreshing to have the zombies once again front and centre. Also whereas Rick and the gang are now, with their years of weary survival drudgery, most definitely the definition of the walking dead, here it's still early days and, though yes it's not exactly all the fun of the fair, optimism is still tangible and ok, and the walking dead are still the ones with the gnashing chops and lumbering shuffle.

This again is not to argue that it's some watered down teen sideshow; a Return of the Living Dead Part II. It's just that this is still a world where it's ok to have inner moral conflict; where maybe people can be given the benefit of the doubt and perhaps strangers should be welcome with open arms rather than be suspected of owning an automated cannibal murder factory. Ok, for Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) and his extended family, innocence won't last forever and by midpoint second season the same cynicism and, some might say, realistic sobriety has finally made its point and been taken on board. But I get ahead.

The Walking Dead didn't go right back to the beginning. It started with the apocalypse in full swing, and the dead out numbering the living a fuck-tonne to one. Fear doesn't just fill in the missing weeks, but goes one further, back to the minutes and hours most people thought things might still actually turn out ok (cue the laughter).

First time it was to see whether the cable audience would take to prime time zombie horror, and with its record cable audiences and Golden Globes, we know how they did. This time, I'd argue the six part teaser / trial was to see, first off, if people were ok with more of the same, and second if people would take to more disjointed and delicate, but more realistic and normative characters, and with a tighter, more insular family driven story.

Rick Grimes was, from the start, the gun toting, self-reliant larger than life comic book character and his companions and nemesis on the journey complemented the excessive story telling that became such a phenomenon. Without the comics central to the narrative, writers Kirkman and Dave Erickson present, with Fear, quite the different, more subtle, to start with anyway, world. If we're honest, from Rick to Shane to Daryl to Michonne or even The Governor, characters had identity tied to role and purpose. Yes there's character development, but true to its roots it's more caricatures with either something to offer or some deep flaw.

The Manawa / Clark family immediately offers something different. There's quirky dynamics, unspoken tension, complicated logistics and everything you'd expect in a modern mid-American family set-up. Ok, it helps to secure the characters before everything's extreme and everyone's under pressure, but even looking to The Walking Dead's flash backs, it's not hard to argue there's far more depth and ambiguity to the relationships even in these earliest moments. I don't think I was alone in taking some time to warm to them all; Travis was a bit stiff, Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) too sullen a matriarch and as for the rest I struggled to remember names or what they were really for; and it was precisely because they weren't as discretely defined.

It was Nick, (Frank Dillane), the brilliantly cast son of Madison who broke me though. The difficult junkie drop-out, and first to witness the return of living dead, is perhaps the gateway drug, easily type-cast, his demonstrable nuance as he deals what he's seen, and struggles with what he should do, amid his heroin come down craziness, and the way this permeates through the family brought everything together. I stopped seeing the characters as isolated identities but as social and broken beings and it all came to life.

Fear also packs the zombie punch, delivering all the highly polished horror goodness we'd expect from the now seasoned production team. The end of the world is brilliantly crafted and by the end of the series perhaps I grasped the Fear bit of the name I initially frowned upon. The undead are scary again, even on their own. They're not yet, anyway, just the obstacle, the problem to solve, but the unknown and incongruous other. They're also in this first series a temporary devastation; because of course things will get better and return to order. The world has yet to fully fall and the full consequences are yet to be grasped by minds that are clearly not ready to process such information. And it's engaging, surprising, both heart-warming and despairing, and utterly enjoyable as one would expect - 8/10.

Steven@WTD.

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