★★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
DC Universe ups the horror ante with Swamp Thing, a smart, brutal, and completely engaging tale that is both complex and comprehensible. Beautiful and savage, it’s worth the price of subscription for sure. Too bad it’s only going to be one season!
There are a lot of troubling stories swirling around DC’s The Swamp Thing. But here’s the most important thing: This production is a triumph. The Swamp Thing has always been the DC’s preeminent horror comics title, and Warner Brothers have put two people who are very good within the genre, Director Len Wiseman (Underworld, Sleepy Hollow (TV)), and producer James Wan (The Conjuring, Saw, Insidious). Forget the clumsy Wes Craven effort from 1984, which was campy enough to establish a cult following, make no mistake, this effort is far superior. What they have delivered is a horror show first, with superhero elements, on top of a police procedural and a medical drama overlay.
It actually all does seamlessly mesh together. Each element of the story is intricately and carefully connected to the other elements. The show has taken much from Alan Moore’s famed take on Swampy from the early 80’s, wherein scientist Alec Holland (Andy Bean) goes down to the Louisiana bayou to investigate some strange phenomena in the swamp, and when he stumbles across a nefarious experiment that is causing a terrible disease in the nearby town of Marais, ends up getting killed… only to return as THE SWAMP THING!
Now, three episodes in, this is actually more the story of Abby Arcane (Crystal Read), and she is also investigating the strange swamp malady for the Center of Disease Control. Abby, though, has deep roots in Marais, and she did not leave on good terms. The show is populated with a bevy of interesting denizens.
Here’s your call sheet roster:
- The money-grubbing Avery Sunderland (Will Patton), clearly behind some of the bad stuff in the swamp.
- Avery’s bitter wife Maria (Virginia Madsen), who has an old grudge with Abby. There was a tragedy and Maria is not in a forgiving mood.
- Matt Cable (Henderson Wade), a handsome cop who had a crush on Abby in high school and now has a second chance with her. (He is the most WB type character in the show.)
- Matt’s sheriff mom Lucilia Cable (Jennifer Beals), who has some scandalous relations in town, which she tries to keep quiet.
- Abby’s best friend growing up, the investigative journalist, Liz Tremayne (Maria Sten). She pulls off the trifecta of being the gay, black best friend support character.
- The eccentric video store owner, Daniel (Ian Ziering) who also happened be a b-list movie star doing a version of DC’s Z-list superhero The Blue Demon.
- The super creepy mad-scientist lackey of Sunderland, Jason Woodrue (Kevin Durand) who is also known in DC Lore as The Floronic Man.
- Madame Xanadu (Jeryl Prescott), another DC comics character, appearing here as a local mystic and fortune teller.
Each one of these characters is terrific and written well. But for those of you Scariest Things fans, what you want to know is… is it scary? YES! The swamp is put to very good use, and this show, like others in the new DC Universe streaming platform, has gone down the R-rated route, much like Netflix did with the Punisher and Jessica Jones. Swamp Thing pushes way past the R-rating and goes full body horror.
Wiseman and Wan pay homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing (my all-time #1 movie), so I can really appreciate this. The first episode has a jaw-dropping show-stopper in an autopsy scene, where you realize that this show is not messing around. There is a strong throwback to the famous Norris heart-attack sequence of The Thing that gets redone here, but it doesn’t feel forced and is spectacularly rendered.
Bodies explode, ripped limb from limb, there is a ghoulish, roach filled entity in the third episode which is pure nightmare fuel. The show alternates from the dark and moody swamp, to terrors that seem cut from movies like The Void. And, massively important, this… Swampy looks awesome. The suit that actor Derek Mears (Friday the 13th, Predators) gets to wear looks spot on with the comic book. What’s more, is that it is animated, and the CG seamlessly blends with the practical suit. It’s a marvel to look at. (Pardon the crossover pun.)
If the show follows the path of the Alan Moore script, or even the more recent New 52 DC run from Scott Snyder and artist Yanik Paquette, what we can expect is a bit of beauty and the beast love story between Abby and Swampy. One of the big elements of the Moore title is that Swamp Thing is the embodiment of the spirit of Alec Holland, and not the actual raised corpse, as was suggested by the original creator Len Wein, and we haven’t gotten that answer yet after the first three episodes.
The first two episodes premiered on the big screen at the Overlook Film Festival, and for those of you familiar with our site, you’ll know that we believe that this festival really vets their material well before showing it. The fact that this show was deemed worthy of a premiere horror film festival suggested to me that there was something special in the works. This has by far the best special effects of any superhero television show, and the jump scares are well placed and earned.
Swamp Thing is going to be a 10 episode run on the DC streaming platform, exclusively. Controversy surrounded this production as it was announced a few months ago, that the show was being truncated from thirteen episodes down to ten. And then further muddying the waters was that right after the show aired on May 31 of this year, DC announced the cancellation of the show, a stunning development.
When something like this happens, it’s often that the studio has no faith in the product. For this show, however, with all the praise from people like me, and legions of fans, it is a head-scratcher. This looks like a big win for DC, a studio that could use a win or two. Insiders trying to read the tea leaves have hypothesized that perhaps it was a deal with the North Carolina film sponsorship. But that has been debunked. Also, there is speculation that the DC streaming platform hasn’t been as successful as they had hoped, but with a property as cool as this, that also seems to be an odd decision. And, there is some data seems to show that according to Business Insider the platform is performing well financially. So, we’re left with a mystery as dense as the mystery in the show itself.
Whatever the rationale, here’s what I recommend. This show is awesome. And it’s only available on the DC platform. The show is starting into its fourth week, but they are releasing the shows weekly, not all at once. If you were to start now, you could binge the first three, and pay for a couple of months of the service, and after you finish with Swampy, you can drop the platform. Personally, I’m also really liking Doom Patrol, and I haven’t yet started Titans. But, I’ve subscribed, and I’ll give it a chance. Think of Swamp Thing as a ten-hour movie, and you’ll enjoy it more.
And that’s what I’ll close with. More please! I don’t care how you do it. I want more. C’mon DC, get this right!