AMC’s (and Amazon Prime’s) limited-run period drama / supernatural horror hybrid is already a hit, but if you haven’t yet been converted, here’s what you should know about my new favourite show.
I haven’t loved watching something on TV this much since The Wire (yes I know everybody name checks The Wire, but there’s a reason for that. The Terror is a perfect mix of period details, a mysterious monster, beautiful Arctic scenery and survival drama, all things that I happen to love.
But if you don’t share my tastes (quite likely, because who else would blog about Sam Hinkie in a post on self-publishing a YA novel) here’s 5 reasons you should be watching The Terror too.
First Of All, What’s It About?
The Terror is based on a historical horror novel by Dan Simmons of the same name. It takes a real-life mystery and real people as characters, then provides a supernatural explanation for what we don’t know. But don’t be fooled by the supernatural elements. Most of the horror is psychologically based and grounded in reality, while the worst monsters are (dah-dum!) human.
In 1845, Sir John Franklin led an exploratory mission to the Arctic for Britain’s Royal Navy. The goal: to find the fabled Northwest Passage. With two ships (HMS Erebus and the ominously named HMS Terror) and 128 crewmen, he entered the frigid, uncharted waters of northern Canada. Then, as far as Europeans were concerned, they all vanished. It took many search expeditions over 170 years to piece together most of what happened. Even today, there is still much that hasn’t been explained.
If you want to be surprised entirely, I won’t give away the history. For those wanting to know more, I give you the Wikipedia entry! It’s a harrowing read, a horror story, even without the supernatural content.
The television adaptation isn’t for the faint of heart. Although there is gory violence and sudden scares, this isn’t a straight up horror show. As the title indicates, this is about fear. All the things that people are afraid of and the extremes that fear will drive them to.
5 Things That Make The Terror So Good You Need to Watch It Right Now
In no particular order….
1) Actors Be Acting
The Terror boasts an incredibly stacked cast of British and Irish character actors. It’s a who’s who of recognizable faces, if not names, from prestige TV: Ciarán Hinds (Rome, Game of Thrones), Jared Harris (Mad Men, The Crown), Tobias Menzies (pretty much everything!)
Newer faces lift their weight as well. Incredible performances by Paul Ready (as assistant surgeon Harry Goodsir) and Adam Nagaitis (as devious petty officer Cornelius Hickey) really get us inside the heads of their characters. Hopefully we’ll see much more of them in the future.
2) It’s Beautiful
I’ve always wanted to visit the Arctic in winter. Despite the extreme cold, it looks so other-worldly and that beauty. The Terror transfers that to the television screen. Through gorgeous photography and set design, the bleak whiteness of the environment and the dark recesses of the ships become their own characters. As amazing as the Arctic scenery looks, you’ll be even more amazed that most of those scenes were shot indoors. It’s all CGI. Somehow, it works. The Aurora Borealis never looked so menacing.
3) The Score
Speaking of menacing, that’s how I would describe the unsettling musical score, and I mean that as the highest complement. I don’t know a lot about music, but even in the small sample from the trailer above, composer Marcus Fjellström’s work puts you in the right, terrifying mindset.
4) A Long Overdue Inuit POV
While not the focus of the show, the mythology of the Netsilik, the Inuit people living in the area, is pivotal to our understanding of what’s going on. The scenes involving the Netsilik make clear what the Franklin Expedition means to them. The British are nothing less than invaders.
The production has gone to great lengths to be sensitive to their portrayal of the Inuit, going so far as to ensure their Inuk actors speak with the correct dialect. The show’s depiction is by no means perfect, but it’s welcome. [I remember being so pumped about an X-Files episode that focused on Chinese mythology only to be miffed by the terrible stereotypes and actors who could barely recite Cantonese lines.]
I’d be interested in hearing more reaction from Inuit to this show. I haven’t found much so far on the internet, so if you see anything, please let me know in the comments.
5) The History
The meticulously researched detail blows my mind. Almost every single one of the characters is based on a real person. The little touches, whether in the dialogue or wardrobe, do what good historical fiction does: it takes you to another world. And in doing so, the show is able to seamlessly blend in the horror. It truly is incredible. There is body horror (my least favourite kind) in every episode, and each episode leaves me disturbed. Yet I feel compelled to keep watching, even knowing the ending from history and from the very first scene: none of them are getting out!
I could go on. In fact, I will! I’m so excited about The Terror, that I’m going to put up another related post.
Interested in the Book?
I have not read the original historical-horror novel by Dan Simmons that provided the inspiration for this show. From reviewers that have, I gather that key changes were made, most of which seem to improve on the source material.
It’s a big book, but I’m intrigued enough that I’m going to put it in my TBR pile.