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Harper’s Island – Whap
Seven years ago John Wakefield murdered 6 people on Harper’s Island, including the sheriff’s wife, before the sheriff killed him.
Now, the island has recovered from its first (and only) murders. Trish Wellington and Henry Dunn are returning to their childhood home (or at least summer home) to get married, hosting a week-long house party for their friends and family at a bed-and-breakfast on the island. One of the guests is Henry’s old friend Abby, the estranged daughter of Harper’s sheriff, who has not been back since the tragedy.
What the revelers don’t know, however, is that someone on the island is out for more blood. Is it one of the wedding party? Is it one of the locals? Is it John Wakefield himself, back from the dead (or never as dead as claimed)? The mystery promises to unfold over the course of 11 episodes, with the promise of at least one death per episode as the suspects narrow and the tension mounts.
I was intrigued by the premise, of making a limited-run show that has a specific storyline and of making it a murder mystery. I’m very glad that I tuned in, because this show definitely started with a bang. The basic storyline of this episode: everyone gets on a party boat to go to the island. They keep asking after Cousin Ben, who never shows. We follow a bottle dropped overboard into the water and see someone strapped under the boat–there’s Cousin Ben! We meet various characters, including the bitchtastic bridesmaids and the fun-loving groomsmen, during the boat ride, and some of the locals once they reach the island, including handsome young Jimmy the fisherman who obviously still has a thing for Abby despite not having seen her for 7 years. The festivities kick off with a welcome party; the groom’s brother is missing so Abby goes to look for him at the local bar. He’s there, she runs into old friend (including Jimmy) and then the brother gets into a fight that Abby is breaking up when her father, the sheriff, arrives. They have an awkward reunion–she hadn’t been planning to tell him she was there–and when she gets back to her room she finds a clipping about her mother’s murder taped to her mirror. Meanwhile the bride’s father tries to get her…ex?…to talk her out of marrying Henry; Henry’s uncle warns the father that he knows; and then the uncle ends up getting killed. Stay tuned for next week….
So, how did this show pull together?
Very well. It has a great production value–good filming, a few interesting shots and a much better color palette for the Olympic Northwest than at least one popular movie I could name. There aren’t any actors I recognize, but everyone is competent, and since most of the characters are horror movie standards, they don’t have to be spectacular to be good in the context.
And, as with any good horror movie, the ominous sense that something dark is coming that repeatedly comes up. If you didn’t know what this program was, there are plenty of hints. Possibly these are also to make the audience who does know what they’re watching jump at shadows. For example, the severed finger in a box trick the bride’s niece is playing on the charter boat out to the island. The seagull that lands like a severed limb on one of the tables. The butcher knife chopping off fish-heads along the wharf s the boat pulls up to the island. Creepy noises in the darkness. The niece talking about her new friend who told her about the murders.
Oh, and of course Cousin Ben being strapped to the underside of the boat with an oxygen tank so that he’s still alive when the rudder cuts his head off….
There are even possible suspects, and just as immediate reasons to discount them that may or may not turn out to be red herrings. Henry’s Uncle Marty packs a handgun down his pants, and he has a lot of money in his bag. Hm. Suspicious, but he’s probably just a drug dealer. Henry’s brother J.D. is tattooed on both his arms and his chest. And is that…is that the DARK MARK on his back?! Skull with a snake = Dark Mark in my book, which really just makes him a gothy Harry Potter fan who likes to play at being on the dark side. There is the charming Cal about to propose to his girlfriend, Chloe, who gets a very angry look on his face whilst holding her head underwater after a prank she pulled on him. Then again he ran across the beach with his pants around his ankles so he’s probably not smooth enough to orchestrate a murder such as Ben’s. Then there is Shane at the local bar, who gets into a fight with J.D. He seems too hot-headed reckneck to be a planner, though.
Then there’s the mysterious Hunter Jennings who keeps calling Trish (the bride). He sends her dad a text: “I’ll take care of her tonight.” He sends her a text to meet him away from the welcome party and tries to lay a smooch on her; we see her push him away, but she agrees to meet him in the morning to talk. Uncle Marty overhears Hunter speaking to Trish’s father, the gist being he doesn’t want his daughter marrying Henry, ergo Hunter needs to seduce his way back into her affections or at least out of Henry’s. Uncle Marty offers Trish’s dad a not-so-veiled warning later that evening. Hunter seems vaguely dangerous–but is he a murderer, or just a tool?
I also found the level of violence in the kills to be surprising for a network show, and for one advertised as more of a mystery and less of a horror movie. I’m sure the show’s not breaking any ratings, but the murders are set up well so that not much needs to be shown for them to be creeptastic. Point: We see Cousin Ben struggling underwater, and barely keeping his face out of the way when the rudder starts. Then we see a trail of bloody water behind the boat. Later we see Jimmy untangle the oxygen cord from the rudder, and we get a glimpse of Ben’s severed head. Just a glimpse. But a glimpse is all we need. Point: Uncle Marty falls through the bridge–which had obviously just been sawed through because Chloe, one of the bridesmaids, had just walked over it. (Or she didn’t weigh enough to break the wood. Either way.) He has his piece with him. The sound of a machete clearing its scabbard is heard. It chops into Uncle Marty somewhere below the ribcage, and he ineffectually pops off a few rounds downward but cannot save himself from getting chopped in half. The gore-dripping spectacle is shadowed by the bridge and the night, but you see enough to know that his lower half is missing and go, “holy shit, that is not the way to go out.” And this was just the first two murders!
I’m definitely excited to watch the rest of this story. (And to see how creative they get with the killings.) It’s kind of like an 11-hour thriller movie. Awesome!