Monday, July 4, 2011

Harper's Island

Harper’s Island is a 2009 murder-suspense series created for television by Ari Schlossberg. 

I had a chance to watch the full episode on DVD before the series had its finale at Studio 23 (TV channel in the Philippines) so the excitement was something different because I was able to watch it uninterrupted. This is great for people who loved suspense story. Well, in a stark contrast to other American TV series, Harper's Island is designed only for one season.
Abby Mills and Henry Dunn (Ellaine Cassidy and Christopher Gorham). Photo taken from About.com
The story has so many twists and thrills and I love the way the gruesome death of each character was presented not that I am very morbid who enjoyed seeing people being tortured to death but the story is everything I want for a suspense-thrilling drama. If your stomach and appetite could not tolerate gores and blood and heinous crime then this series is not for you, but for me who extremely adored horror and morbid film and TV series, this is really perfect!

The anxiety of who will be the next character to be sliced and diced and the identity of the killer(s), offered so much thrill. The most intriguing part of this series is the mysterious identity of the killer, though the name of John Wakefield frequently appeared in each character's dialogue, it remains a mystery who  he is. In fact, I thought he was just a ghost or a legend in the island.

The story kicks on the yacht, at the pre-wedding party of Henry Dunn (played by Christopher Gorham) and Trish Wellington (Katie Cassidy), the wedding will take place at the breathtaking Harper’s island. Sailing with them are their closest friends and family. Trish is a rich girl whose father, Thomas Wellington (Richard Burgi) a real estate mogul, is less enthusiastic on the idea of having Henry Dunn, a middle class gentleman, to be his son-in-law, and he wants to stop the wedding at all cost. Nevertheless, everything seems perfect when the boat left the dock.

Then the first murder happened.

While celebrating above the yacht, Trish's cousin, Ben Wellington, was tied up below the boat near the propeller and when the boat's engine roared, Ben was presumed dead and chopped by the propeller as the water was contaminated with blood. 


But I wondered why they did not notice his disappearance. Most of the crime in this series remained unnoticed and no traces of any footprints of the killer, the murder was perfectly executed. I was clueless also of who is the real killer since none of them appeared or looked very suspicious and there were no strangers visiting the island.


At first I attempted to analyse the behaviour of each character hoping to get some hints.

Uncle Marty Dunn, Henry’s protective uncle is presented as a man who will do anything to assure his nephew’s safety within the Wellington family, he was seen at yacht’s cabin preparing his gun with bundles of money though it was not clearly explained why such a move. Thomas Wellington is seen as a sarcastic person with selfishness rolled under his sleeves, pretending he adored his future son-in-law but secretly planned to disrupt his daughter’s wedding by dragging Hunter Jennings, Trish’s former lover, into the scene. Henry Dunn is presented as a full-fledge Knight-in-a-shining armor who will do anything just to protect his future bride and his friends. Abby Mills, who left Harper's Island when she was still a teenager and went to the U.S to overcome the trauma of her mother’s murder, is a serious girl who is still haunted with her mother’s killer. Henry’s good buddies: Malcolm, Danny, Booth and Sully are pictured with contrasted personalities but had endearing characters, through out the series, the adventure of these fun loving guys are both funny and sad as series of misfortunes dominated their happy dispositions.

Trish’s sister Shea Allen contented just to be in the background carrying a heavy baggage with her troubled marriage to Richard Allen who conducted an illicit affair with, of all people, his step mother-in-law, Katherine Wellington. Shea and Richard has a daughter Madison whose creepy annoying character sometimes bores viewers, unlike other Kids in any TV series, Madison’s role in Harper’s overshadowed her innocence that made you wished she never existed in the series at all. 


The island’s sheriff, Charles Mills (Jim Beaver), who is still grieving the death of his wife six years ago, appears calm and protective of his daughter, Abby and unlikely to be the killer. Abby  was invited by Henry to go back to Harper’s to take part of the wedding, they are childhood friends, when she came back, past seems to resurface including her old flame, the gorgeous Jimmy Mance(CJ Thomason) and the horror of remembering her mother’s brutal killing. Henry has a brother named JD, whose gothic and disturbing character and scary tattoos all over his body, made me suspect he is one of the killers.
CJ Thomason, one of the cute dudes in Harper's Island

Well, the dreadful and most surprising truth came out on the last three episodes.


The plot aims to kill one person each night or day, but for a story with one week pre-wedding celebration as a backdrop, one season looks like too long to stretch out the story without any inconsistencies. As each character was killed, it was surprising that none of them was aware that one is already rotten elsewhere unless the body is accidentally discovered. For a small island of only 26 km wide and 2 km long and with only 25 people in the entourage billeted in the hotel-like home, it is sometimes impossible to think that murders left unnoticed.

Everybody in the group was convinced that the murderer was the man named John Wakefield, a legendary killer who had been involved in the killing rampage six years ago that claimed the lives of several people including Abby Mills’s mother. Though Abby’s father, the island’s sheriff, is certain he already killed the man, the rest of the party was not convinced. Wakefield showed up in the final two episodes with a shocking revelation that Henry was his son with Abby’s mother and his ultimate accomplice.

But there are some light scenes in the series, the tender love story of Abby and Jimmy, which Schlossberg decided to save up to the last episode and let them survived the killing rampage, the great affection of Trish to her father, the Sheriff’s effort to protect his daughter Abby and Cal’s devotion to his girlfriend, Chloe.

Though in general, Harper’s Island is a fine TV series with lots of cute dudes, it carried some residue of confusion and loopholes, the common problem encountered when the story of one week is stretched to three months. Though I greatly adored how this series crafted and the scenes always made me go back to think Wez Craven’s Scream in a more sentimental way, I was nevertheless confused and disappointed why it did not emphasize the murderous behavior of Henry Dunn, because it was such an important turning point of his character and in the series. 

Although murder scenes should not be necessarily put in a vivid detail, it should be at least highlighted with importance. For instance, how Henry Dunn carried out the murders of Malcolm and his brother JD, which is downright morbid considering his close relationship to the two, it could be otherwise acceptable if the production conducted the horrible scenes through flashbacks and see how he executed his cold-blooded actions. 

The major twist of Henry Dunn's character was wasted in just a light revelation that he was the accomplice of Wakefield who turned out to be his father; it was so shallow with no traces of gross, it betrayed the real purpose of the story to leave an impression of gripping thrill and suspense. The presentation was too focused in holding viewers’ excitement on the killings that it did forget to give emphasis on Henry Dunn’s final moment of revelation about his true nature.

The reason of killings is a bit trivial; it was very futile that in the end it sounds very funny rather than sad. It could be nice if the story was woven in a more dangerous reason in such a way that viewers made to agree with Dunn and Wakefield that victims deserved to die in such gruesome ways. As casts doomed to slice, shot, hung and stabbed, the story hastened up to reach the final episode.

But the amusing thing about this series is that none of the leading casts knew they would be killed, Chris Gauthier who played Malcolm Ross, revealed that he first auditioned for the character of Booth but production switched him to Malcolm. He also said that he was clueless who among them was going to be the Killer, he first suspected Danny. He also described how he would be killed, originally according to Gauthier, he will be chopped in full view of the camera, but the writer decided to just show off his bloody hands because his screaming and the sound of chopping are enough, to avoid a gruesome scene. Malcolm Ross was killed near the incinerator when he was about to repent from taking bundles of money and left his friend, Booth, to die in the forest.


Nevertheless, Harper’s Island is a good breather for today’s boring soap operas and TV shows where everything seems settled to remakes and adaptations. It is entertaining, could throb heart beat in some instances and could shake veins of people who had low tolerance of gores, never mind if the plot is not properly written. Consequently, the murder scenes are tailored for decent public viewing and cleverly executed for entertainment purposes. Even with few lapses in the story, still, Harper’s Island is one of the best suspense series I'd ever watched in television.

This is a reposted article from my Triond blog: Read it HERE


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