Martin Carr reviews the first episode of Wayward Pines…
For anyone unfamiliar with Blake Crouch here are a few pointers. His flavour of thriller fiction has made him a household internet sensation. One such creation made its way onto Fox this week in the shape of Wayward Pines. Starting off like first person survival horror, before segueing swiftly into Lynchian homage, Pines is neither overly sophisticated, nor strikingly original at first glance.
Fleshed out by a who’s who of character talent, with at least one Oscar nominee, this ten part drama is both tightly plotted and engaging. Name dropping like a society debutante, the cast includes Toby Jones, Terence Howard and Juliette Lewis. Or Capote, James ‘where’s my money’ Rhodes and ‘the patented indie muse’ as I like to call them. Including Melissa Leo, Carla Gugino and Matt Dillon only serves to add further depth, making Pines both uniquely tempting and simultaneously intriguing.
As an opening gambit ‘Where Paradise Is Home’ strikes a nice balance between creepy and quirky, while Matt Dillon makes us believe. Executive produced by one time wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan, Wayward Pines comes across like a small town Stepford Wives. Laced with hometown familiarity by way of Stephen King, it sticks with Dillon’s Agent Ethan Burke throughout feeling like the bastard child of Silent Hill and Twin Peaks. Given sinister support by Melissa Leo as Nurse Pam and Terence Howard as a one man sheriff’s department, this opener has all the promise of a pulp fiction pot boiler. Dillon is ably assisted by Lewis in an escalating fish out of water scenario, which culminates in subtly layered circumstance designed to unnerve without drifting into cliché.
These techniques are further exacerbated by location shifts between Wayward Pines and reality. Where washed out tones juxtapose the chocolate box houses, white picket fencing and manicured lawns which pervade this artificial utopia. Countryside cook outs are the sole social pastime perpetually overshadowed by jaw dropping scenery. Shyamalan has not been on form to this extent since The Sixth Sense. Creeping dread permeates everything. Although nothing seems to happen, the time slips by all too quickly leaving you wanting more. Have no misconceptions going into this social experiment of Truman Show proportions; it is entertaining.
Dillon holds the screen as only a seasoned veteran can. Forever inches from the A list he remains charismatic, hard-boiled and savagely self-aware. Holding your attention in between silences with wordless gestures and moments of panic glimpsed beneath the glacial surface. Howard meanwhile plays it sinister but tongue in cheek. Sheriff Pope’s small town stereotype is copybook stuff. Distrustful, yet engagingly dishonest here is a man with all the cards.
As revelation after revelation is revealed in the most subtle of ways, there is a realisation that we need to settle in for the long game. Across from us sits a poker player impossible to read. We may think we have them figured out in the first five minutes. Their signs are easily read. Those homages come too thick and too fast. They reveal their hand too quickly and in our heads we already know the outcome. Until we lose the first hand and then the second. Suddenly those chips aren’t stacked so high. My gut says Wayward Pines is like that. On the surface everything looks so simple. Like a tick list of been there done that murder mystery clichés. Fronted by an under rated actor, from an under the radar internet sensation with a reputation for flipping genre convention. Something tells me underestimating Wayward Pines would be a bad decision. Take my advice and stick around things will get interesting.