The DC character Swamp Thing doesn't have the best track record with being adapted. There were two movies, an animated series, and the best of the lot, the live-action series which lasted three seasons. However, none of them truly tapped into the most obvious aspect of the character and the world he lives in: It's all terrifying. The DC Universe streaming service, which has already taken big swings with shows like Titans and Doom Patrol, finally does Swamp Thing justice by creating a show that is truly horrifying.
Within Episode 1 of DCU's new show, Swamp Thing barely makes an appearance, and that's fine. The show centers around a town in Louisiana where something is making people sick and killing them. CDC investigator Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) returns to her hometown to find the cause, where she comes across rogue biologist Alec Holland (Andy Bean), and the two find out that there's a problem in the swamp. While this synopsis sounds more like a copy and paste procedural, what sets Swamp Thing apart is its tone.
With executive producer James Wan on board--the mind behind Insidious and The Conjuring--the latest DC Universe offering is straight-up horror, and it is a perfect fit for the character. From early moments where a young girl becomes sick to when a corpse/plant hybrid goes aggro in a morgue, the first episode does an exceptional job executing a slow build toward the macabre. While it explores body horror, it never crosses the line with moments that are entirely unwatchable, much like Brightburn did, but there is an unsettling feeling that something atrocious could happen at any moment.
The first episode is dark, hopeless, and gritty without falling into the DC cinematic universe trap of feeling like it was done without actual purpose or just to look "cool." The look of the show feels like it could take place in our universe. At no point in time does your suspension of disbelief break because of some of the other-worldly happenings or moments put into slow-motion with popular music blaring behind it. In fact, when you get to see Swamp Thing, it doesn't feel out of place, even though it's one of the more bizarre and dark character designs from DC. And frankly, Swamp Thing looks pretty awesome, which was a big concern for many fans because it's a weird character to try and put into live-action.
Arcane may excel at her job at the CDC, but she has a troubled past, connected to her hometown, which rears its ugly head during the premiere episode. The choices she's made within her life were to help save lives after being put in a situation when she was younger when she couldn't save someone close to her. While this character development feels like the same old story--a character returning home to face her haunted past, a staple of horror--it's not something on the forefront of the audience's mind, as it takes a backseat to killer plants.
However, this aspect of her character leads to one of the most boring scenes during the hour-long pilot episode, where Arcane and Holland spend roughly 10 minutes talking. It is a scene filled with exposition, and a complete lull in the episode before the final scene, which is fantastic. This sort of thing happens regularly in pilots, but sticks out like a sore thumb in Swamp Thing.
While dealing with the past, she has the present confronting her as well, as she learns her small town is under the stranglehold of an evil corporation.How many times have viewers seen this story? What's crazy is that it works for this setting and world exceptionally well. Swamp Thing takes over-used elements and subplots within film and TV and makes them relevant again. Maybe it's the excitement of knowing that the audience will see Swamp Thing soon or wondering what horrors the viewer will see next, but what's old feels new here.
There is one particular scene that really stands out--and not in a good way--which is the opening sequence featuring a group of people in a boat in the Louisiana swamp. They have some black boxes they're putting in the water. A bunch of vines attack them, killing at least one. Yes, it sets the tone, in a sense, and shows you what's to come, but it is completely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things because a later scene where Dr. Arcane investigates a home is the only tonal setup this show needs. As for the boxes, it's something you completely forget about until later on, so this who sequence doesn't really kick things off right.
Like Titans and Doom Patrol, DC Universe has another potential original series hit on its hands. Swamp Thing is something completely different from the aforementioned shows and from anything else DC has put out to date. It's straight-up horror mixed with mystery. Will this show stay on the path? That's the real question, as tonally this is a more complex show that we all first thought. The first episode was surprisingly well put together and exceeded expectations, which is a task considering DC Universe's track record of A+ original series thus far.
Swamp Thing comes to DC Universe on Friday, May 31.
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