This past Sunday, we attended part of IFC’s What the Fest film festival. I was able to see a screening of the first three episodes of AMC’s new show, THE TERROR.

The show is based on true events. In 1847 two British Royal Navy Ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror got stuck in ice on the quest to chart a Northwest Passage through the Arctic. The mystery of what happened to the disappeared crew first sparked a novel, by Dan Simmons, and now the television adaption by Ridley Scott.

Beware of Scurvy

“Avoid scurvy, take a tangelo!”

These were the words that greeted me as I entered the theater. Scurvy was a common fear among men at sea, and a disease believed to plague the crew members of the HMS Terror.

Executive producers, Soo Hugh and David Kajganich, along with star, Jared Harris, introduced the screening. The first two episodes, which had already aired played first and were followed by the third which was set to air the following day.

Ciaràn Hinds as Sir John Francis

Terror on The Big Screen

THE TERROR is a beautiful marriage of historical accuracy and psychological horror. Seeing the first three episodes of this limited series, on the big screen was breathtaking. I will admit that going into the screening, I was skeptical as to how the horror aspect of the story would translate into episodes.

However, on the theatre screen, the episodes felt more like the first three hours of an intense film rather than a television show. This ability to circumvent the conventional feel of a 45-minute episode show only adds to THE TERROR’s authority as part of the horror genre.

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The main contributor to the success of the show’s suspense is the cinematography. All three episodes feature intense shots of the immense expanse of ice that stands between the seamen of both ships and their journey home. These shots linger just moments longer than is comfortable. During a scene in episode two, a team of seamen have been sent out to find breaks in the ice and come across the shore of King William’s Land.

As they survey the deserted expanse before them, the camera focuses on Doctor Henry Goodsir (Paul Ready). Goodsir seems as if he can see something in the fog covered distance. This focus leaves the viewer searching for something as the camera pans the rest of the scene. It sets an appropriately uneasy mood for the rest of the episode.

The Beauty of THE TERROR’s Research

The people who have made THE TERROR have obviously done intense research on the original event. The level of detail, not only to the time period but also the entire realm of real people involved is impeccable. The show is obsessed with detail. HMS Erebus was found in 2014, however, the namesake of the show, HMS Terror, was only found in 2016.

They used the blueprints of Canadian Archeologist, Matthew Betts, to create the set for the show. After the discovery of the real Terror, it turns out Betts’ vision was not far off. At the short talkback after the screening, both executive producers and Jared Harris spoke to the smallness of the set. The whole cast and crew worked in a space almost exactly the same size as the original ships. The cramped quarters created a comradery within the cast and crew. The almost complete accuracy of the set creates a sense of authenticity that pulls the viewer in.

Authenticity is one of the most important elements of any content based off of true events. THE TERROR excels at creating a space where the viewer feels immersed in the world of the 1847 expedition. The show spares no detail. Every aspect, from the ships to the smaller objects such as spoons or cans of rations, is thought out.

On Sunday, both Hugh and Kajganich talked about the research process in regard to props. They mentioned a photograph of the cans from the original expedition. The props department recreated the cans to look 2 years old rather than 200 years old. After looking up the photo and seeing the show, it is spooky how close the recreations come to the real artifacts.

Paul Ready as Henry Goodsir

Bringing the Dead to Life

In addition to cinematography and authenticity, a fabulous cast brings the story of HMS Terror and HMS Eredus’ crews to life. Led by Jared Harris, the cast manages to bring life to men long dead. Harris, who was present at the screening, portrays the show’s lead, Captain Francis Crozier, Sir John Francis’ (Ciaràn Hinds) second in command.

The Irish sailor has seemingly reached his peak in the Royal Navy, is unwelcome on the expedition, and has a severe drinking problem. Harris takes the challenge of this complex character and nails it. He moves with subtlety and commands a certain type of confidence that brings Crozier to life.

In the opposite role, Ciaràn Hinds takes on the character of Sir John Francis, Captain of Eredus and expedition leader. Francis is a man of religious fervor who seems to have something to prove. Hinds brings a stateliness to the role that makes Francis likable, but complex.

All the men aboard the Eredus are confident in their Captain’s love for them, even if they do seem a little worn down by his endless preaching. However, in the moments with Crozier (Harris), Hinds brings Sir Francis’ poor choices to light with a needed arrogance.

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Nive Nielson

Hugh and Kajganich spoke on the search to find actual Inuit actors to portray the Eskimos in the series. Both said they relied on their actors to bring not only authenticity but also agency to the Inuit storyline. Nielson commands the screen when she is present and doesn’t need words to steal the scene.

Nive Nielson as Lady Silence

Bring TERROR to Your Monday Nights

One of the best combinations of true events and the supernatural, THE TERROR is a limited, 10-episode series. It’s just the right amount of horror to start your week. The show airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC. If you need to catch up before the next episode, you can watch full episodes on AMC’s website.

THE TERROR takes historical drama to a new level with an added layer of horror. Fantastic acting, beautiful cinematography, and insightful research make this new show a must watch.
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