I thought I hated horror.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prissy girly girl who wants all the characters to go home happy at the end. Let them suffer. I simply have no inclination to watch some guy in a mask hacking up people too stupid to stay out of the basement just because he can. The monsters at the bottom of the cave usually don’t make it clear just why they’re chopping off limbs or eating people, and if they do, it’s generally pretty lame. It’s all two hours of fake blood and stumps, every woman who wanders from one side of the screen to the next shrieking “AHHHHHHHHHH! NOOOO, AAAAG-” Eh. Boring
And then I found Harper’s Island. The trouble with Harper’s is that it had everything I could have asked from a horror, so now that it’s over, I love it even more than when it was airing.
If you’ve been in a television-less hole in the ground the last four months or you just ignore everything that airs on CBS (no one will judge you for this), the basic premise is this: Seven years ago, a serial killer by the name of Wakefield murdered seven people on Harper’s Island, one of whom was the sheriff’s wife. Her daughter, Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy), was sent away to live in L.A. and did so, putting the horror behind her until now, when her childhood best friend Henry (Chris Gorham) calls her home to attend his wedding where the guests immediately start getting bumped off, each death increasingly gruesome.
No spoilers here, but allow me to say: the killer is brilliant, maybe even my favorite part of it, beautifully played and written, a three-dimensional character with chilling and believable motive. Actually, all the actors are pretty much amazing. The material they’re given is, in spots, less than breathtaking, but they act the hell out of it. Cassidy and Gorham in particular just knock it out of the park, giving sharp, emotionally exhausting performances, but they’re far from alone. (Speaking of which, the sheriff is darling Jim Beaver, who plays Bobby on Supernatural and the bride-to-be is Katie Cassidy, who played the original Ruby, the one I actually liked. I know I said I don’t like horror, but Supernatural barely counts.)
If you watch closely enough and make a few leaps of logic, you might just figure it out before the characters do, a cherished pastime of mine. Most of the time, if I can guess whodunnit before the end, I get annoyed with the bad writing, but Harper’s foregoes this fate by being subtle enough that you still second-guess your choice and you never know who’ll turn up dead next. When you figure out the why of the whodunnit, it doesn’t weaken the show: it makes it better. Things click into place and suddenly the entire series is that much more harrowing.
Sold as a thirteen episode “event,” Harper’s has its brevity going for it. Any shorter and it would have felt rushed; any longer and I would have hated the characters for being idiots. The length is perfectly suited to its content: long enough to include everything necessary and round out the characters realistically, short enough to force out any extraneous material, exactly right to keep you on the edge of your seat. Despite knowing that death awaited nearly every castaway, I couldn’t help getting attached to them, proud to watch them change and grow, devastated to watch them die – and that’s exactly the way it should be.
The show might be over now, but you can still catch it streaming at CBS.com (warning: the clip at the top of the page has a spoiler in its description, which is pretty lame, CBS) and the DVDs come out September 8th. I kind of can’t wait to watch it again.