TV Review: ‘The Terror’ Blends Frights with a Period Setting

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Recent years have seen an uptick in period-based horror films and television. It’s been an interesting bend for the genre to take, and much of the best work in the genre has used this to its advantage. Look no further than “The Conjuring” or “The Witch,” both of which used their settings to add levels of suspense. It was only a matter of time before a television series decided to join in the movement. The result is “The Terror,” based on the novel by Dan Simmons. The limited series follows the men of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, which both disappeared in 1845. While the ships were never found, remains of the crew were discovered over the years. Using Simmons’ fictionalized account from those on board, the series is able to build a tension driven story that delivers on scares. It’s a bloody affair and a but can be a bit unsatisfying at times.

The story of “The Terror” begins as the ships travel through the artic. The ships are traveling together under the command of Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds). Franklin has brought two of the best Royal Navy commanders, Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) and Commander James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) to find the Northwest Passage. It’s an important mission for the future of the British Empire, but they soon find their ships have been locked in the ice. As time passes, the situation for the Terror and Erebus turns from bad to worse as a creature begins to hunt down the crew.

When shows gather a handful of British thespians, there’s a chance they can catch lightning in a bottle. “The Terror” is one of those shows where the cast seems to elevate each other. The real star performance comes from Jared Harris, who is spectacular again. His quiet intensity and general air make him the perfect captain of a British vessel. Harris is the most interesting character and provides an excellent foil to Hinds. Hinds is very strong in his best moments, portraying his character with all the ego and conservatism required to make him work.

Once again, Menzies is strong in an underappreciated role. He’s one of the characters that changes the most over the series. Menzies makes his shifting allegiances believable. Finally, if there’s a breakout star, look for Adam Nagaitis to become one of the exciting actors moving forward. His intensity and charisma are perfect. If he can do a Minnesota accent, “Fargo” would be the perfect vehicle for him. Nive Nielsen delivers a strong performance in her role as a native inuit who understands the creature hunting them. Finally, Paul Ready gives one of the most grounded performances, making his character an easy one to side with for the majority of the season.

One of the aspects that is both a positive and negative for the series has been the slow build. At times, the pace of the show drags to a halt. At others, it makes the show one of the most captivating series on television. In most cases, showrunner David Kajganich puts out the right pace. Still, it can be one of the things that may turn audiences off the show. On the flip side, the production is very strong and builds a dark aesthetic around the show. The cinematography is shaky at times, and occasionally gives us the point of view of the monster. It’s well executed, and the group of cinematographers that build the show holds the visual consistency well.

Overall, “The Terror” is another decent entry into the limited series race. It’s elevated by strong performances, which overshadow the pacing issues. Some of the other production design elements stand out, but overall the series doesn’t quite live up to the premise. Still, there’s a lot to like here.

What do you think? Did “The Terror” live up to its name? What other period stories do you want to see a horror aesthetic apply to? Let us know in the comments below!

“The Terror” airs Mondays at 9p (EST). The season concludes on May 21st, 2018. 

GRADE: (★★½)