SHOCK reviews the first season of AMC’s FEAR THE WALKING DEAD on Blu-ray.
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD was a nice surprise.
When AMC announced that they would be birthing a flesh-ripping sibling to their flagship series THE WALKING DEAD it sorta seemed like overkill. Wasn’t one epic long-form, undead apocalypse narrative enough? How much further could they go? What new humans vs. zombies arc could they possibly etch? Indeed, the idea of FEAR seemed like a case of singing the same song, albeit one performed as a cash-grabbing cover version.
Of course, if you caught the show in its initial run this past summer, you know that such cynicism was unwarranted. In fact, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is an incredibly sophisticated, innovative show, one that takes co-creator Robert Kirkman’s Romero-informed formula of putting people first and ghoul gore second and then steers it into new, nerve-shredding, territory.
The series dials back the clock to the early stages of the “walker” outbreak, events that take place during the point in which TWD’s hero Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) was locked into his coma. Instead of trotting out its horrors in the sweaty city streets and back woods of Atlanta, FEAR follows a pack of survivors living in the sun-scorched urban decay of LA, an ideal backdrop to illustrate the collapse of society. Our point of entry into the story is high school guidance counselor Madison (GONE GIRL’s Kim Dickens), a tough single mom now shacked up in a blended family with her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis), daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and troubled, junkie son Nick (Nick Dillane, a ringer for a young Johnny Depp). When Nick is almost killed by a ghouli-ified junkie in a squatter’s shoot-up dive, he escapes and is immediately hit by a car. Rushed to hospital, the teen tries in vain to convince his mother and others that something is wrong, though the obviously battered matriarch chalks his ravings up to his now unmanageable addictions.
Meanwhile, slowly, surely, the world starts to break down and eventually both Madison and Travis become believers. Travis breaks away to rescue his own son and ex-wife and , after a series of truly harrowing encounters with both the living dead and frenzied inner-city rioters, the clan is reunited in a military safe zone. Of course, as the “protected” residents soon discover, there is no safe zone in this new world, one that propels without rule and mirrored by murder.
First of all FEAR has a radically different look. It’s beautifully shot by Michael McDonough, every day-lit scene looking like a hazy, sun-soaked LA noir. And where THE WALKING DEAD functions as a quasi-western, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is very much an urgent thriller. The cadence of the dialogue is snappy, the punishing electronic soundtrack by Paul Haslinger, creates an atmosphere of consistent paranoia and stress. And having a female stand as the central hero, especially one played by such an appealing and complex performer as Dickens, is a real coup and adds a kind of vulnerable gravitas to the story.
In many respects, FEAR ‘s first season is superior to TWD’s first two seasons in that it isn’t chained to a direct source material and has the freedom to find its own legs and be its own beast, which it most certainly is. The audience never knows quite where the narrative is leading, resulting in many surprises, shocks and bizarre twists. It’s a confident first round and moves with purpose, deftly balancing the horror of a world breaking down, with carefully ladled out doses of the expected graphic gore and KNB-fuelled zombie shock effects.
Watching the entire season on Blu-ray in a binge, as this critic did, one feels like they’ve seen a fully realized, 8-hour long feature film, one that has both closure to leave the viewer satisfied and yet has enough open ends to keep us on edge for the impending second round.
Anchor Bay’s 2 disc release looks and sounds magnificent but is virtually bereft of substantial extras of any kind, save for a double shot of EPK “making-of” talking head reels. But with all the endless press, blogging and assorted spoiler-doling found all over the internet anyway, it’s rather nice to have a simple, elegant package that leaves the art as is.