SEASON 1: EPISODE 1 & 2
Starring: Crystal Reed, Andy Bean, Virginia Madsen, Henderson Wade, Maria Sten, Will Patton, Jennifer Beals, Derek Mears
Writers: Gary Dauberman (Pilot), Mark Verheiden
Based on DC characters created by: Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Director: Len Wiseman
Production Companies: Big Shoe Productions, Atomic Monster, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television
“Something’s out there. Something vast, dark and growing in the awful, in the rot of the water.”
The superhero fad is still going strong. If the Avengers: Endgame (2019) box office haul so far is any indication, viewers have an insatiable thirst for good superhero storytelling. In that vain, several studios still plan to churn out movies and television shows. Whether Marvel, DC or any of the other comic publishers, there is no apparent end to their onscreen adaptations. Most recently, we have DC’s entry, Swamp Thing (2019). But it’s unique in the television landscape, being an entry in the horror genre as well.
With the first couple of episodes aired, there are visible weaknesses. First, I wasn’t impressed with the hospital scenes. Something is wrong in Marais (incidentally, the French words for swamp) and it’s sickening its inhabitants. The CDC sends Abby, a Marais native, to investigate the outbreak, initially believed to be viral. However, when she arrives at the hospital, the people there lack urgency, especially the medical staff. Also, the protective gear is inadequate considering they’re dealing with an unidentified pathogen. After watching the recent, The Hot Zone (2019), which dealt with an Ebola outbreak, those scenes in Swamp Thing seemed woefully inadequate.
Second, I was disappointed with the first few scenes involving Virginia Madsen. She wasn’t the sole reason I was excited about the show, but ever since Candyman (1992), I’ve enjoyed watching her performances. However, in her first appearance with any significant amount of dialogue, her lines felt delivered for the sole purpose of exposition. They hint at some existing rift between her character and Abby. But their delivery felt unnatural and stiff. Fortunately, her role improves and gets the true horror treatment.
It’s frustrating that the dialogue issue keeps creeping up between other characters as well, and not just in the pilot. It isn’t a deal breaker, but Swamp Thing has a high budget, a cast of known actors, and a strong contingent of executive producers, including James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring). So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the expectations of a strong production value, including solid writing, are high. With this in mind, it’s safe to state that the show’s qualities clearly outweigh the few negatives.
First, as opposed to the scenes in the hospital or in Marais, the ones shot in the swamp and immediate surroundings are outstanding. They create a perfect dark, claustrophobic feeling. DC has been criticized before for being dark with their on-screen adaptations (cue the Deadpool 2 (2018) comment to Cable), but in this case, it’s right. It’s perfect. Swamp Thing is a horror comic after all. One that provides an eerie, suspense-inducing atmosphere that not only works but is necessary. It gives the show an excellent and creepy atmosphere.
It’s still early to fully comment on casting, but so far, Crystal Reed (Teen Wolf) as Abby Arcane and Andy Bean (IT Chapter Two) as Alec Holland works well. Their chemistry is good, hampered only by a few dialogue issues. Even though I singled her out as a being in a weak scene, I’m still excited to see Virginia Madsen. As well as Will Patton (Halloween (2018), Falling Skies), the man who may have something to do with what’s happening in the swamp.
There’s also Maria Sten (Channel Zero – The Dream Door) playing Liz Tremayne, the local journalist and Henderson Wade (Riverdale)playing a local police officer as a love interest to Abby who is well cast. Albeit in limited roles so far, it was exciting to see the familiar faces of Ian Ziering (Sharknado, Beverly Hills 90210), Kevin Durand (The Strain, Tragedy Girls) and Jennifer Beals (Taken, The Bride).
The show develops slowly, but that doesn’t mean there is no action. Most of the pilot is spent on narrative exposition, providing background information on most of the characters. Looking for the cause of the illness is also at the heart of the action. It’s during this search that the show introduces the mutagen responsible for the accelerated swamp vegetation growth. However, we don’t get to see Swamp Thing himself until the very end of the episode and then, only for a brief moment. The credits state Swamp Thing is based on characters created by Len Wein, whose hero was a man transformed into Swamp Thing. Is it possible that Alan Moore’s version might be used, where the monster is a plant-based creature that imitates a human? There are lots of possibilities.
The special effects are top notch. For obvious reasons, the accelerated vegetation growth is done using CGI, reminding me of Evil Dead (2013). However, other effects, including the creature, are done old school. Swamp Thing is Derek Mears wearing a physical costume. Although CGI has made incredible progress over the last few years, there’s nothing that compares, at least not yet, to hard, physical effects. Thanos looked good in Avengers: Endgame, but not fully real. The dual approach taken in Swamp Thing is paying dividends. Not only is it a good entry on the superhero front, but it’s making a great foray into horror.
The setting is dark, eerie, and mysterious. It perfectly heightens the tension, the unknown, and the intensity of the gnawing fear that something is lurking underneath the duckweed-covered swamp waters. There is brutality to the violence, not unlike the gory mess that was in The Thing (1982). Branches slither and reach out, grabbing hold of their prey. Whether lifting a boat as though no heavier than an apple or ripping apart a man with such ease, this is a monster not to be trifled with. Lovers of the horror genre will not be disappointed.
There is a strong foundation to tell an outstanding story here, with limitless possibilities. Swamp Thing himself is incredibly powerful and due to his nature, is able to appear anywhere on Earth. But for now, the story is set in the swamps of Louisiana, and it’s brilliant. The actors, the direction, the setting, and the effects have combined for a great start and the potential to deliver a solid series.
Update: Unfortunately, Swamp Thing has been canceled. All ten episodes will air, but there won’t be a second season. This is a sad turn of events as the show is good and promising. Though there is limited information available at this time about the reasons, the high costs seem to be at the root of the cancellation. It’s a reality of these kinds of productions but is unfortunate nonetheless. Swamp Thing is a good entry in the DC television universe, and my only hope is that we get a satisfactory conclusion to the story of this first season.