Reviewed by Morgan Elecktra
Starring Briana Evigan, Niall Matter
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
When our illustrious Mr. Butane took off for parts Canadian earlier this week, his parting gift for me was a reminder that I would have to review this week’s episode of Fear Itself. I actually didn’t mind too much, despite how abysmal I’ve found the series so far. This episode, entitled “New Years Day”, was written by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II). That’s some pretty decent genre cred. And all I knew about the story itself was something about a post-apocalyptic world of zombies and one young girl’s startling discovery.
So I wasn’t totally dreading catching this week’s review. But apparently, my cable box was. After re-watching Batman Begins to get myself pumped up for The Dark Knight premiere, I turned on NBC… only to have the picture freeze solid. This has happened before, so no sweat. I turned off the box, turned it back on. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Every once in a while it’ll blip back on, but all I get are mixed pixels and a burst of unintelligible sound. But I’m determined, so I unplug it and plug it back in. Still nothing. Finally, I give up and call my cable company and listen to their brain numbingly monotonous hold music until I get an actual representative – a very nice guy named Kenneth. After asking me if I’ve tried turning the box off, or unplugging it to reset it, Kenneth agrees to rezap the box, boosting the signal or somesuch thing, in order to get it straightened out. He assures me that once this is done, all I have to do is wait a few minutes and everything will be right as rain.
A few minutes later, the picture comes back with only occasional skips and pixelations. With about 10 minutes left in the episode, I decide to watch it anyway and then catch the rest when they stream the video on NBC’s website. So, all I know is there’s a girl named Helen (Step Up 2: The Streets‘ Briana Evigan) and she’s wandering around a zombie infested world looking for her boyfriend James (Cory Monteith). Interspersed with her search are flashbacks of what appear to be a party the night before, during which something happened and zombies took over. A few minutes later I turn to my husband and outline what I think is going on. And then BOOM… the big reveal. And I’m right.
Now, don’t go getting your knickers in a twist. Quality knickers are hard to come by. So before you get all heated thinking I’m reviewing not having seen the whole episode, rest assured I did go to the website and watch it from start to finish. And I was right. I figured out just about everything that had happened previously in the episode just by watching the last 10 minutes. That’s how obvious and spelled out everything is.
Don’t get me wrong. The episode isn’t terrible. The story is pretty standard, not really anything we haven’t seen done many times before with the zombie subgenre. But it’s not awful. It’s just bland. I didn’t hate all the characters or think they were ridiculous. They were just paper thin. Everyone keeps commenting on how “different” and “special” Helen is (including herself, saying she “doesn’t really fit in anywhere”). But I couldn’t find one interesting or unique thing about her. Her brother’s just died, and she’s been having a hard time dealing with it apparently – so says roomie Eddie (Niall Matter). She can’t stop living her life just because her brother’s dead. Oh, and Helen has a tarantula (also dead) and has what appear to be B-horror movie posters on the walls. That’s pretty much the extent of what we learn about either character.
Helen’s boyfriend James and friend Chrissy are even less developed. We know absolutely nothing about them, apart from their connection to Helen. The result of these shallow characterizations is that I cared little to nothing about what happens to them. There isn’t a single soul that’s really relatable.
And the story itself is just Dullsville. Helen searches for James, careening through a world full of zombies that don’t really do anything but make clicking insect noises instead of groan. And there seems to be a shortage of zombie chiropractors, because every single one of them kept whipping their heads to the side in what looked like an attempt to crack their neck vertebrae. The flashback sequences to the party don’t add anything to the story, apart from added length, some broad strokes as to how the infection started and a means to telegraph the upcoming twist like a claxon horn.
Seriously, there’s nothing surprising or entertaining about any of it. And the visual style is nothing short of annoying. Why must we always have shaky camera work, even when there’s no physical action taking place on screen? Stand still, damn it. Get a freaking tri-pod already. And when there IS action, Bousman resorts to further camera tricks, quick edits and blurs. Paired with the flickering light of the environment, when things DO happen, you can’t tell what they are. So don’t expect any cool zombie attacks. It’s all shaky cam and flickering light.
Overall, this wasn’t the worst episode of Fear Itself. It didn’t make me violently angry with its stupidity, the way “Spooked” (review) did. It was just totally boring, a complete throw-away. Which is sad because I think both parties involved have more talent then that.
When all is said and done, what really put it into perspective for me was one simple fact. The basic premise (a young girl in a post-apocalyptic world in which zombies roam makes a startling discovery) could be used to describe Masters of Horror’s season 1 episode “Dance of the Dead” as well. That wasn’t the best episode either, but it was leaps and bounds more interesting and entertaining than “New Year’s Day”. It had better characters, better visuals, and a much better story… all predicated on the same basic idea. If we’re going to compare Masters of Horror to Fear Itself, I can’t think of a more apropos example than this (at least so far) to highlight the vast differences between the two. And it’s clear which one comes up lacking.
At least I didn’t hate it this week. That’s something I guess. Although next time my cable box freezes when I try and watch something, I might just take the hint and skip it.
2 1/2 out of 5