The Following season two: Bacon and Purefoy back with a slice and a stab

203-003-the-following-trust-me-photos-lightbox-tbdSo… it seems The Following is back. A bit of a surprise hit when it aired last year so no big shock that it’s got another season. If you missed it first time round, the show largely focuses on two characters: wounded (physically and emotionally), brooding former FBI guy Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and the charismatic and learned lecturer-turned-serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy).

The cat and mouse game these two play is what makes this work. Ok, the script is decent and intriguing, suspenseful even. But for me, the secret lies in the casting and the characters. We often know where the story is going but it’s a fun ride getting there.

Whether it’s big or small screen, Americans adore a bad guy played by a Brit. And in Purefoy’s Carroll they’ve got just that; as his cult ‘following’ of wannabe killers grows, you feel yourself drawn into his orbit – you believe people would follow Carroll and want to please him.

To his credit, Purefoy doesn’t overplay it, but gives Carroll real believability as a cult leader. The way he actually kills people is like some sort of visceral and cathartic release, almost sexual at times. 202-007-the-following-for-joe-photos-lightbox-tbdYou can imagine Family Guy’s Stewie describing him as ‘deliciously evil’.

And then there’s Kevin Bacon’s Ryan Hardy. Wounded by Carroll in a previous encounter, he now has a bum ticker and, as a former FBI man, he plays fast and loose with the law to catch Carroll. Oh, and he drinks, making him your all-round, typical flawed antihero.

Funnily enough, I see both Carroll and Hardy as protagonists, they’re both so interesting you want them both to come out of it with a measure of success. Or, to put it in other terms, you want them to go round and round each other forever, much like Batman and the Joker in The Dark Knight or De Niro and Pacino in Heat. Two sides of the same coin.

Anyway, that’s the setup. And, without ruining season one for those that haven’t seen it, Hardy and Carroll scrap it out to the bitter end in a satisfyingly dramatic conclusion. I say satisfying because, whilst it brought the series to a nice close, it left it open for a follow up.

With season two events pick up a year on, Carroll has gone into hiding and Hardy is getting on with his life. He’s stopped drinking, he’s hosting dinner parties. In short, he’s becoming well adjusted… to a degree.sam-photos-lightbox-tbd

Then bam, stabbings and murders galore. Carroll’s followers celebrating the anniversary of his ‘death’ at the end of season one (it’s no spoiler to say this, of course the main bad guy survives for a second season!), go on a killing spree on the subway shouting ‘Carroll lives. Ryan Hardy can’t stop him!’ Then, slowly but surely, little factions of his followers begin to emerge.

One of Carroll’s original followers, Emma, returns sporting a new punk rock haircut. We’ve also got a new love interest for Ryan Hardy in the form of art dealer Lily Gray (Danish beauty, Connie Nielsen), a character who will no doubt have a hidden agenda or two (the internet is already awash with theories, time will tell).

But most interestingly we’re introduced to a pair of twins: handsome, well dressed lads (both played by Sam Underwood) that put you in mind of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Underwood is an interesting actor (another evil Brit!), already carving out a career playing characters with a dark side (see his work in Dexter and Homeland). The twins pay homage to Carroll in a series of elaborate and poetic murders that set things up nicely in terms of intrigue and a wild card element for the season.

And all that in the first two episodes. It’s nice to have the show back.

Utopia: Conspiracy thriller packs a punch

utopiaAs I’d heard good things about Channel 4’s new mini-series, I settled down to watch with trepidation and was rather impressed. The plot focuses around an online forum group for fans of a cult graphic novel The Utopia Experiments: a novel that allegedly predicts future events.

They are brought together after one of them discovers a sequel to the novel. Something thought to not exist. Unfortunately this brings them to the attention of two evil chaps hell-bent on retrieving the sequel’s manuscript and killing the group and anyone associated with it, often in a chilling fashion.

utopia2Where is Jessica Hyde?

This mini-series is pitched as a slow-burn thriller and I’d say that’s an apt description. It gradually weaves various story strands together and we get introduced to characters slowly and confidently, learning a little about them in each scene.

As well as the forum group, there’s also a sub-plot involving a government health minister, which looks likely to connect with the main story further down the line and has intrigue written all over it.

Why a spoon? Because it’s dull, it’ll hurt more

In terms of critical reception, much will be made of the violence. Considering this is TV, it’s incredibly well-shot and cinematic, with a compelling cast including Kill List alumni Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley. If you’ve seen that film you’ll have an idea of the tone.

Without giving too much away I’ll just say there’s a few stand-out, Tarantino-esque scenes that really do pack a punch. That said, it’s not violence all the way – indeed, the characters are built up well and the plot is intriguing and compelling.

wilson wilsonMaster of suspense

One of the things the show does well is not reveal its hand too quickly. Vitally important – for something pitching itself as a slow-burn thriller – to keep in mind. Obvious you may say, but it’s been ignored before.

As an audience, we like to be kept guessing. Not too much, but enough to keep us hooked. Based on the first episode I think they’ve got the balance right. Let’s hope, if it’s maintained for the duration, the results could be something quite special.

[Interesting links]
Guardian blog: Utopia review | How long before they find you? The Utopia Inquiry