This afternoon B-D writer Tex sent in his latest review of NBC’s Fear Itself (all reviews), which continues every Thursday at 10/9C. Inside you’ll find a review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s “New Year’s Day.” In the episode, a young woman wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by horrifying zombies.
After a week of hiatus, NBC’s fledgling genre series FEAR ITSELF returns with what promises to be one of the most anticipated episodes of the inaugural season, REPO Director Darren Lynn Bousman’s NEW YEAR’S DAY—a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller scripted by 30 DAYS OF NIGHT guru Steve Niles’ from a short story by Paul Kane. NEW YEAR’S DAY is one of only a handful of episodes this season that doesn’t sport alumni from Showtime’s defunct MASTERS OF HORROR series. But with Bousman’s successful track record and Niles cult following can the episode live up to the hype? The answer is…most of the time.
Helen (Briana Evigan) has just awoken on a New Year’s Day to remember—if only she could remember the night before. It seems that Helen had a little too much merriment at last night’s “End of the World” New Year’s Eve party. And what a prophetic party it must have been, because outside Helen’s window it appears that that time has come. After an explosion at Compton Chemical unleashes an unexplained toxin, the dead are returning to life and wreaking havoc all over the city. Once she discovers her roommate Eddie (Niall Matter—doing his best Darren Bousman impersonation) and all of her neighbors are among the victims, Helen bolts out into the anarchic morning in a desperate attempt to reach her boyfriend James’ apartment.
This week’s episode is the first one that really captures the feel of a full-blown feature film for a television audience. A great deal of that success comes from the stark cinematography (courtesy of John Spooner) and the jump-cut editing (by Marshall Harvey). But, as both Spooner and Harvey have prior FEAR ITSELF credentials (FAMILY MAN and EATER respectively) the onus for the episodes ultimate feel must be placed on Bousman. In fact, NEW YEAR’S DAY contains all the gritty, grimy, desaturated lighting and whip-pans that you’d expect to see from the man who helmed most of the SAW franchise. But, despite the grandiose look of the film, the production is saddled with one major problem.
This episode is about a journey. The journey that Helen takes through a war-torn cityscape in search of the man she loves. That journey is paralleled by the one that Helen’s mind takes as it pieces together the events of the night before. The closer Helen moves toward the end of her physical journey the more complete the past picture becomes. The problem here doesn’t exist in the stories that are unfolding—both are interesting in their own way. The problem lies in the fact that the immediate story is urgent and frantic, with bodies and blood and the kind of post-28 DAYS LATER electricity that has been powering the new zombie revolution. The other story is necessary in order to provide the viewers a complete character arc and to qualify the ending of the film. But that story is plodding and it keeps breaking up the action. Couple those constant breaks in the momentum with the commercial breaks necessitated by the network and what you’re left with is a film that keeps stopping itself just as it’s getting good. These elements only start to come together at the very end of the film, working in unison to propel the plot forward. And the reason it starts to work at the end is because the clips are kept much shorter and come in a more rapid succession, keeping barreling along toward the conclusion. The pacing—as it exists right now—is fine for a feature-length production that can pad out its running time for an hour and a half. But, with only 45-minutes to spare and commercials breaking the whole mess up NEW YEAR’S DAY could have sustained a much higher level of intensity for a much greater span of the story then it currently exhibits. As it stands right now, this episode seems to be the one that’s suffering most from its “stay tuned for a word from our sponsors” primetime fate.
Still, with the exception of the uneven pacing and an impossible to justify appearance by one of the zombies in the final moments of the film, NEW YEAR’S DAY offers a respectable ending with a nice twist, a solid performance from its lead actress, and an interesting new idea to consider adding to the lexicon of zombie lore. With that in mind, NEW YEAR’S DAY is definitely one of the better episodes of this season and one that I hope—and partially suspect—will play better when it makes its way to DVD.