The Following – Review

A new serial killer thriller from the creator of Scream, but is it worth following?

The latest big hit from the U.S to debut on these shores is the much hyped The Following starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy. Another example of big Hollywood stars migrating to the small screen, The Following arrives on a wave of good reviews and a lot of hype.

The story centres on notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (Purefoy) who, in the opening episode’s very first scenes, manages to escape from a maximum security prison, killing five guards along the way. Bacon plays retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy, the man who originally captured Carroll, who is now living off the notoriety of his success and the profits of a best-selling book he wrote on the subject. When word gets out of Carroll’s escape, the FBI draft Hardy back in to help capture him. So far, so formulaic.

And the majority of this first episode didn’t do much to dispel the nagging feeling that you’d seen this all before. Hardy has a drink problem and had a relationship with the killer’s wife. Carroll’s final victim, who was rescued by Hardy, is now living a successful life with the obligatory gay couple as neighbours. No one working for the FBI seems to have a clue when it comes to hunting Carroll down, but clues fall into Hardy’s lap at the most opportune moments. Carroll has an obsession with Edgar Alan Poe, drawings on his cell wall, and a library of books that no one at the prison seemed to think were suspicious.

If you’re checking off all the serial killer films of the last twenty years as you watch, join the club. Obviously in thrall to Silence Of The Lambs and Se7en, the show seems to delight in making us aware that we are in a world that we have seen countless times before. But this is writer Kevin Williamson’s forte, as the man who turned horror films on their head when he wrote Scream.

With the stereotypes set up, Williamson proceeds to defy expectation and throw curveballs when we least expect them. With the exception of Hardy and Carroll, most of the supporting characters start to show their true colours about three quarters of the way in. The gay neighbours are far from what they seem, Carroll’s wife’s baby sitter is not the innocent teen we first think, and the guard who helped Carroll escape is on a terrifying journey of his own. How well Williamson can keep all these balls in the air is up for debate, but as an audacious opener this grabbed the attention. The end of this first episode started to pull all these strands together and we got an idea of just where this series is heading, the worry being that it will morph into a crime of the week procedural.

There were problems with this opener. The whole thing moved at such a breakneck speed that at times it felt like watching a serial killer movie on fast forward, and the look of the show was very bland. We’ve come to expect our thrillers to have a more moody and grittier look, but The Following lit most of the scenes like the interior of an Ikea store. The big problem for a lot of people may well be Bacon himself, with his ubiquitous presence on our screens advertising a mobile network, but he does down at heel very well and is a solid centre to the whole thing.

Some people may balk at having yet another Brit as the baddie in an American series, and obviously Purefoy’s Carroll is supposed to bring to mind Hannibal Lector, but when spouting flowery prose and sounding calmly evil no one does it better that a classically trained Brit!

For a series opener, The Following had more than enough plot to grab the attention and enough twists to make you hungry to see the next episode. I have a feeling that this is one series that may be worth following.

The Following is on SKY Atlantic, Tuesday nights at 10pm. Check out the SKY Atlantic official site

Duncan Stripp

Updated: Jan 25, 2013

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