Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Happier Dead written by Adam Usden and directed by David Darlington & Darren Gross

What's it about: 'Collinsport Hospital is where you come if you want to die.' But no one is dying at Collinsport Hospital, even those who wish to. When student parapsychologist Amy Jennings is rushed into intensive care, she reluctantly begins to investigate, and soon finds the hospital morgue is anything but empty. But who is behind it? And what could they possibly want? Amy might be guaranteed to make it out alive, but she is about to discover there are fates far worse than death.

Amy Jennings: Amy Jennings has always been unlucky in love. She loved her parents and they died. She loved her brothers and they died too. Amy is extremely sensitive when it comes to talking about werewolves. She's a hilariously inept investigator at times, asking professionals about supernatural happenings. She splits the world into two types of people, those who see cold spots and those who see ghosts. Which one are you?
Standout Performance: The best aspect of the first series of Torchwood by a country mile, Murray Melvin is one of those performers that excites because he never quite plays a scene in the way you might expect and is eye catching because of it. It's a similar technique that Tom Baker has, a compelling eccentricity and a feeling that anything can happen whilst he is acting. Edwin Beadle was the best character to feature, a witty and dry old codger who knows his time is up and wants to skip to the end of the book he is reading just in case he doesn't make it to the end.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Collinsport hospital is where you come when you want to die!'

Great Ideas: Collinsport is cursed. You breathe its air, you choke. You drink its water, you drown. You even look at it on a map and you go blind. If anyone had any sense they would level it to the ground. Amy understands exactly what to expect from a mystery at Collinsport hospital - bodies being admitted clawed and mutilated. She's been in this town long enough for none of this to surprise her. But nobody could guess the plague that seems to have struck now - life. Nobody is dying at Collinsport hospital despite having some horrific injuries. It's Torchwood Miracle Day all over again. Just like Miracle Day it is a premise that has so many possibilities.

Audio Landscape: The sequence with the hysterical screaming failed to unnerve me because I was too busy turning the volume down. It was like somebody was grating my brain. Heart monitors are used in an imaginative way. 

Isn't it Odd: Whoever played the coffee shop server has to be heard to be believed. The Happier Dead opens on a scene that really feels as though you are coming in at the middle of the story with no real clues as to what the beginning was. The dialogue occasionally made me wince ('And the Oscar goes to...', 'Cold hands, bad circulation') and it was overly descriptive in parts too ('He's charging the door!' could have been handled with a sound effect).

Standout Scene: Amy's Miss Marple moment when she realises that this wasn't meant to be such a sweeping reform where death is prevented...it was only supposed to work on one person. A clever twist that I never suspected. Suddenly the one responsible is blatantly obvious.

Result: 'Leave the dead to die!' Don't get appendicitis in Collinsport! A busy script with a busy cast, a little unfocussed but full of a nice ideas. The dialogue felt a little strained at times and the atmosphere a little forced...and even the direction erred a little too close to the melodramatic for my tastes in a range that is usually quite restrained in its horror. Saying that the plot unfolded in unexpected ways and there was always something interesting going on, I'm just not sure that the execution always worked. I prefer an economic cast (Bloodlust proved to be the exception) and this is a full cast drama with too many characters to give adequate attention to. I wanted to spend more time with Murray Melvin's gloriously oddball Edwin but he was spread amongst thirteen other characters. Halfway through the story and I wasn't entirely sure what the threat was in The Happier Dead, it felt like the script needed to go through a editor one more time to iron out its kinks. At one point the script is so ill defined one of the characters makes a supposition about the motives of who they think is the villain and says 'maybe we'll never know.'  I really love the quirky idea of the heroes trying to kill people off as a mercy, the protagonists becoming the murderers in this insanely turvy topsy situation where immortality is a curse. The weakest Dark Shadows I have heard yet but it's still more involving than the worst of the other Big Finish ranges: 5/10

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