A New Horror
Horror is a tough medium to get right. When it comes to AMC’s The Terror, this dread-inducing cocktail of claustrophobia, cabin fever and eerie historical fiction combined to give the show a genuinely creepy atmosphere during its run last year. So much so it easily rivaled the feel of classic horror films like The Thing. Following on from a successful season is never easy, and even more so when it comes to the horror genre.
Slow-paced and mysterious, The Terror returns for a second season with a stylish first episode, lacking the definitive hook that made the first so good. It’s still early days yet but the feel of this second season doesn’t quite match the first and as a result, the entire episode hinges on its slowly developing supernatural tale that may or may not live up to expectations.
We begin in San Francisco with a young Asian lady walking across the harbour at daybreak, staggering toward the edge of the platform before stabbing herself in the head. It’s a suitably bizarre opening, made all the more tense by the unnerving way she contorts across the dock. At the service, a young man named Chester experiences a strange omen as the casket topples over and the body tumbles out.
From here, the episode then slows as we learn more about Chester and his life. This is 1940’s America, with racial tensions high and Chester’s ambitions to get out and experience more of the world higher still. Working as a fisherman with his father, Henry, Chester butts heads with his family over their small patch of land and how he thinks they should strive for more.
After snapping photos at the aforementioned funeral earlier in the episode, Chester finds the photos he developed distorted, with some of the people brandishing blurred faces. A rapturous knock on the door back home brings a man named Stan Grichuk into the fold who threatens Henry, accusing him of being a spy. He succumbs to the threats, giving the bully his car while Chester bemoans his Father’s lack of courage in the face of adversity.
Meanwhile, Furuya-San experiences issues of his own, as he looks up at the sun and finds his eyes glossing over and beginning to bleed. As his family rush around him, desperate to find out what’s going on, Chester himself is haunted by continuous visions, leading him to receive a tea-leaf reading from a mysterious Asian lady. After receiving an ominous, prophetic message, Chester heads back to the dock where he learns someone has been messing around with the nets, which happen to hold a dead Grichuk.
As Henry and Chester discuss the tumultuous ride to equality in America, sirens wail as a radio broadcast from Roosevelt confirms that America are at war. The family are rounded up, along with numerous other Asian families, and taken away to the camps. The episode then ends with the tea-leaf lady stitching her face back together whilst looking ominously at the camera.
With a combination of character-driven historical drama and folklore horror, The Terror: Infamy attempts to blend real-world horror with supernatural elements that never quite hit the same level the first season achieved. For much of the episode there’s little in the way of tension or outright horror, save for a few gruesome hallucinations or supernatural moments. While it’s still early days with this one, given how brightly the previous season started, the second season pales in comparison.
Stylistically, the show looks great though and the 1940’s setting is reflected nicely by the mood of its people, the costumes and general set design which all do a really nice job grounding this series into an America plunged into war. The promise of the camps and a more claustrophobic setting to come may be just what this series needs and there’s no denying the pieces are certainly here for a tense season to follow.
There is, of course, a lot going on here but right now most of the characters fail to really inspire and stand-out. The dialogue is okay, as are the scripts for most characters, but the first episode has little in the way of originality or unique horror to really get excited about. All this could change going forward of course, but right now The Terror: Infamy is a good historical drama and an okay-at-best horror, with teasing glimpses of potential lurking in the shadows. Whether they’ll appear in a way that’ll complement the historical fiction remains to be seen but right now The Terror gets off to a good, but somewhat underwhelming, start compared to its excellent first season.