Archive | June 2017

Fortitude 2015: Living on the Edge of the World

For fans of mystery and especially horror genre stories the best ones often take place at the “edge of the world” or rather the “edge of civilization.” The stories usually involve a limited number of people either living in or visiting a secluded spot where there is little relief from isolation and loneliness. Needless to say, these stories are often bleak and rarely have happy endings.

When the trappings of modern civilization are swept aside the lie that humans are basically good can be properly addressed. The number of people doesn’t matter, and in fact, less people around can lead to more vicious transgressions. Now, this could merely be a cosmopolitan disdain for small town life–and could be viewed in that lens–but it’s really purposeful isolation from broader humanity that’s being criticized, not merely small towns. The idea, I suppose, is that people who choose to live in secluded places have personal problems and inner demons that they wish to hide away. I would go further than that and speculate that these characters (at least those in the stories) have a profound sense of their own guilt and are afraid of what they would do living among more people. Then again, maybe they just like being alone.

Fortitude (2015) is set on an island in the arctic. The closest mainland is Norway and the scenery is gorgeous. What a setting! The story makes the island-glacier bittersweet in its beauty, drawing it right up against the evil in people and the evil in the earth. Sometimes we forget that our Earth itself, although beautiful, is tainted and corrupted. The very land supposed to sustain us can just as often kill us.

Like most other stories of this kind, Fortitude is set in a town with a few hundred people eking out lives in barren places. We are first introduced to the purposely flawed characters, then shown their indiscretions and weaknesses, then thrown into the larger plot as people start dying. Why anyone finds this entertaining, much less myself, I’m not sure. Sometimes we find it fun to be scared, sometimes we are eager to see what kind of person will make it to the end. Who will be the last one standing? Will they be like us and if so, would we also have a chance of winning out under such circumstances?

I generally liked Fortitude, but thought the ending too hopeless and drawn out. We’ve come to a point in our entertainment history where shows, not movies are the thing. Episode after episode can be devoured while the tension mounts. Trouble is, in too many of these stories, the tension is not held or increased due to too many episodes or too long of episodes.  Often the first couple of episodes are great and then the story meanders. In Fortitude‘s case too much time is spent dwelling on people’s faults rather than figuring out and fighting what was going on. For thrillers, a good policy is to have events happen faster than the audience thinks expects them to happen. Keep the audience on their toes. Of course this can backfire, but slow-burn really only works when the writers actually know how to consistently up the ante (AMC’s The Killing did this well in S1-3).

Fortitude increases the tension for a few episodes, drops it, forgets about certain characters or storylines for an unforgivable amount of time, and then tries to up the thrill level only when we’re already bored. It wasn’t a bad story, but it could have been as heart-stopping as some of the scenery was. It also had a non-ending–that is, Fortitude‘s writers left the forgone conclusion up to the audience without actually showing it all. If it had been a better-told story, this could have been brilliant, but really it just came off as the makers of the show tired of the whole thing and wanted it to end. And they strangely killed off Stanley Tucci’s (The Devil Wear’s Prada) character well before the ending. His character kept much of the plot going, so I don’t understand this decision, nor do I understand the uneven lengths of time devoted to the two researchers who end up being the ones to root for. We follow the sheriff mostly, but he’s already set up as an untrustworthy character. Until Stanley Tucci’s arrival, the audience doesn’t really have anyone to properly latch onto.

The acting was generally good, especially the mayor and the police team, but no one really stood out except for Tucci. The other characters could have been played by any number of actors. Maybe I just find Tucci’s American acting style more relatable, but I thought he did the best job. The taxidermist played by Ramon Tikaram (Jupiter Ascending) also had a lot of intrigue going for him that ultimately never paid off. Most of the characters seemed poorly drawn and so humdrum. Few had any dreams or plans or happy family life. Fortitude aimed more for depressing than thrilling and I think that choice was a mistake.

While I have criticized much about Fortitude, I found it generally entertaining and a puzzling story, but I would only recommend it to those that sincerely love these serial killer, edge of the world stories where most of the characters die. They are really not for everybody.

I am looking forward to watching S2 with Dennis Quaid to see the changes they’ve made in their story approach and to be able to compare the two.

Missing 9 review

Spoilers ahead.

The premise of the Korean show Missing 9 sounds great.  It’s a bit of a LOST takeoff, a group of people survive a plane crash only to be stranded on a deserted island where-in Lord of the Flies antics ensue.  I bring up LOST as an immediate comparison because for fans of that show it is impossible to not to see similarities, not only in the plot premise, but also in how the story is told.  (The Missing 9 creators are clearly replicating at least the flashback-present time switchback).  Missing 9, however goes more the direction of Lord of the Flies (and perhaps some Swiss Family Robinson) than heading off in the LOST no man’s land of science fiction. Although it would have been fun to see the Korean version of LOST with island monsters, time jumps, and the whole lot, not going in that direction is actually a strength of Missing 9.  At least initially.

For the first few episodes the fairly simple plot of Missing 9, the brief history of the celebrities and employees of Legend Entertainment, their plane crash and subsequent stranding on a deserted island somewhere off the coast of China, works. And it even still works once the people are pitted against each other on the island.  Where is fails is that one character ends up being a murderer bent on killing anyone who gets in his way.  For episode after episode he is the sole bad guy and the sole conflict the rest of the survivors have to fight against on the island. The plot rapidly gets old at this point and I actually stopped watching it and simply read through plot summaries of the rest of the show. Talk about mediocre ending.  I’m all for characters ending up happy, but partying with a murderer, even if he is soon to go back to prison, is a bit too much and actually makes light of what he’s done wrong.

Other things I liked about Missing 9 were the flashback scenes where everyone is dressed in beige or brown. It was an intriguing concept and it’s a shame it didn’t seem to go anywhere other than serve as a marker for which scenes were in the past. The soundtrack was better than most, both thrilling and nostalgic. The acting was also outstanding, especially the leads, Jung Kyung Ho (Falling in Love with Soon Jung), who is a very solid actor that exhibits old school charm (think Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant) and has complete mastery of both comedy and drama, and Baek Jin Hee (Pride and Prejudice (Kdrama)) who was a spot-on heroine and “average man” for the viewer to follow. Kim Sang Ho (City Hunter) is always a pleasure to watch and brings a subtle grounding to the production. His characters are always relatable and always seem to have good hearts. Choi Tae Hoon’s villain had a good progression of onscreen presence, but never really became a totally “love to hate” bad character that would have shot him to acting stardom. If they had cast Choi as the lead and Jung as the murderer, that would have given the show an amazing dynamic because Jung does have eyes that just pull one in. He would make a terrifying and thrilling villain and Kim’s character would be completely torn over love-hate as would the viewers. I also think that Choi would have faired better playing the lead as it would have necessarily forced him to have more expression on his face.

Missing 9 sounded like a must-watch, but ultimately failed to deliver. Better K-drama thrillers are Signal (2016) (probably the best TV thriller I’ve ever seen from any country) and Tunnel (2017).