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.