I am a fan of mysteries. If you ever see my review of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express you will know that every now and again I enjoy playing along with mystery novels and stories and trying to deduce who the was the killer. Which is why when I saw ads for a new television shows many years ago called Harper’s Island claiming to be a murder mystery television show I was excited. So back when it came out in April of 2009 I sat in anticipation of the new TV show… And immediately felt the dejecting sting of disappointment as the first episode came to an expected and lack luster end.
It pains me to admit it but I sat through the entire season, I suppose feeling my masochistic urges boil up inside of me that needed to be cured with an hour long episode of a glorified direct to video slasher flick extended into fifteen hours of expected plot points and terrible acting. I guess I was just hoping that they would try something out of the ordinary or that wasn’t one big cliche… But I was wrong. Dead wrong. Even the tagline that guaranteed that at least one character will die each episode should have been one big warning sign that basically says ‘Yeah… Who gives a shit about mystery?! Death and violence! YAY!’
There is much to discuss so let’s see why Harper’s Island was the technical and commercial failure that it was.
Setting Looks Nice
I suppose one good thing I can say about the series is they found a really nice location to shoot it in. The sets really do give off the feeling of a small town fishing village with the isolated charm of an island. At least it gave me something to look at while I was sitting through the rest of the episode.
So yeah… The scenes look nice and the camera work isn’t horrible either. But man o man am I stretching for this one. After sitting here for nearly thirty minutes trying to think of something positive to say this was about it.
The Mystery Will Keep You Watching… To Complete Disappointment.
This area is kind of a double-edged sword. The reason for that is the show will keep you watching to learn more about the killer, their motives, and who they are… However the problem is that the reveal is some of the most cliched bullshit that you will ever have the misfortune of seeing. I’m not going to give away spoilers in case you get a wild urge to buy the DVD release at your local video store but what I will say is this… Your first instinct is the right instinct. It doesn’t take a college education to see through the transparency of the poor script that was written. There are no twists, no turns, and it all fits the same worn out formula with the same ‘shocking’ reveals that just make you want to groan and turn the channel.
But even though it does build suspense, the suspense is just one big disappointment so this fits more into the poor category than good.
My God… The acting is simply horrible in this show. I think the people in charge just decided that they needed every cliche in horror movie stories and found the right actors to insert them into the story. You have the strong, confident, yet vulnerable female protagonists who needs a man in her life to make her complete, her childhood male friend love interest, her former love interest, her tough as nails disconnected father, a couple of ‘bro’ friends for the groom who have no discernible characteristics besides one is fat, one is a douche, and one is a kind hearted black guy. There is a bitchy sister and a creepy little girl who is creepy for the sole purpose of being creepy. Seriously she has absolutely nothing to do with the actual killings except for being creepy. Plus Adam Campbell of Date Movie and Epic Movie fame shows up to chew the scenery with his painful acting.
Other then the little girl, the African-American friend, and a few other bit parts who put forth decent performances the rest are just cliches and what worse the characters bring nothing new to the cliches so they are just cliche on top of cliche.
The Story is Cliched Slasher Flick
I know I am using the word ‘cliche’ a lot and I will try to let up but damn it this is one of the biggest problems with the show. It is one BIG cliche. It is a slasher flick that has been extended out to fifteen hours. Most of it is nothing but padded B-Plots that disappear once the characters are killed off. Some of the characters have no plot what so ever and are only there to add to kill count.
The whole problem with this show is they focused too much on the death count and not enough on the mystery itself. Either you have a slasher flick or you have a mystery story, you can’t have it both ways. If you want to have a mystery then it is stupid to say ‘someone dies every week’ because we know that most of these characters are going to die, there is no point in getting attached to them. They are goners and you know damn well who is going to be goners. With the exception of a few main characters that get killed at vital moments you know the rest of the bit parts are going to be body count. Which is fine if you just want a straight up slasher story… Granted I would not like it and a lot of others would not like it because the slasher flick high body count has been played out but at least you would have hit the specific market that would watch the show.
It wanted to have its cake and eat it as well and instead had mystery fans and slasher story fans on the outside looking in getting way more of the other element then what they were expecting and due to this the plot suffers for it.
Most of the Death Scenes are Overly Graphic and thus Hilarious
Another problem with the series is that it was on a prime time TV station like CBS. Due to this they are VERY limited on what they can and cannot show. They attempt to have some very graphic death scenes but most of the time you don’t get the satisfaction of seeing the death instead of seeing the poorly created effects after the camera pans back out for a split second to show the result.
Most of them are pretty standard, a person is cut in half which really doesn’t make a damn bit of sense with the amount of time it would take to cut a man in half with nothing more than a knife at your disposal, another one is a spade rigged to a lamp to release and kill the father (which goes into the realm of Saw levels of what the fuck death scenes.) One of my perfect favorites is a guy is harpooned through the chest and then pulled off-screen which was more Looney Toons level of cartoon violence. Another guy is killed by a paperweight… A fucking paperweight! The deaths feel more like a parody of slasher flicks then slasher flick deaths themselves. They really take away from the suspense and fear of the killer when I’m falling over laughing at watching a death scene that is so absurd that it leaves me kicking and screaming with laughter.
The problem with Harper’s Island is that it didn’t know what it wanted to be. A slasher flick, a mystery, or even a dark parody. The acting is poor, the cast is nothing but cliched, the story is expected, and there is just nothing that is all that redeeming about the TV Show. Luckily the rest of the world seemed to agree when they saw it and it luckily fell into the realm of media obscurity to be dug up by critics such as myself.
Final Score: 1/5
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