'The Terror' – horror has never been cooler

Is The Terror as unforgiving to watch as it is to endure? Certainly not as Johnathan Mack explains

Johnathan Mack
30th March 2021
Credit: IMDb
AMC’s ambitious horror anthology series, The Terror, has finally arrived on BBC 2. First airing back in 2018, The Terror has alluded UK screens for three years – perhaps replicating the mysterious ship to which the series owes its title – but now the wait is over, and we can bask in its insidious glory.

The mysterious disappearance of Captain Sir John Franklin’s (Ciarán Hinds) arctic expedition provides an eerie historical backdrop for the season, with the narrative centering upon Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) as he attempts to lead his crew away from arctic threats, both natural and supernatural.

Jared Harris as Captain Francis Crozier in The Terror, Credit: IMDb

Something that surprised me about this show is just how bleak it feels. The polar weather has been captured wonderfully and the series really shows what an unforgiving environment it is; every shot looks freezing. Despite the prevalence of vast stretches of rolling ice and blasted land The Terror very cleverly maintains its claustrophobic tone. Giving the impression of isolation for a group as large as 134 men is a tall task, and yet the show really draws attention to the vulnerability of the explorers in spite of their numbers, honing in on their crumbling and volatile psyches.

It’s not just the weather they have to contend with, as the illusory antagonist, Tuunbaq, stalks the band unceasingly. You’re never quite sure when exactly the spectral bear will raise his ugly head, but when he does you can be certain of a bloodbath, something sure to satisfy avid horror fans. Tuunbaq plays a fairly minor part in the narrative, but the ever-present threat keeps the viewer on edge every time we see a shot of a solitary sailor or fog – he’s rarely there, but he could be.

It's rewarding to see how the characters develop within such harsh conditions

Paul Ready as Mr. Goodsir, Credit: IMDb

Internal threats are just as terrifying though, and paranoia runs high amongst the crew. Seeing the sailors creep about the dimly lit ship is just as tense as when Tuunbaq arrives. The series covers over three years of the expedition, so it's unsurprising to see the characters evolve quickly over the course of the season. Harris, Hinds, and Tobias Menzies give brilliantly melancholic performances and they’re accompanied by a top-notch supporting cast. Paul Ready’s Mr. Goodsir provides a much-needed glimmer of goodness in the cast, and we see how each of them adapt to their unforeseen predicament. There is real transformation in the characters – those who survive long enough at least – and it's rewarding to see their layers being stripped away. By the closing of the series, these men are far removed from the optimism they display in the first episode and it’s a testament to the show that these dramatic changes are paced well enough that they aren’t jarring. Each revelation feels deserved.

The Terror is an entrancing rendition of what a doomed voyage might be like, and it leaves no stone unturned. It shows us the brutality of its landscape and creatures just as effortlessly as it explores the psychology of men who are gradually losing hope. It's bleak, suspenseful, and shocking.

Just as a slow descent into insanity should be...

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