Swamp Thing - “Pilot”
Starring: Andy Bean, Crystal Reed, Virginia Madsen, Derek Mears, Maria Sten, Will Patton, Henderson Wade and Jennifer Beals
Directed by Len Weisman
Written by Mark Verheiden and Gary Dauberman
Airing on DC Universe
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s muck-encrusted mockery of a man gets the gnarly TV horror treatment it deserves in the debut of DC Universe’s Swamp Thing. Premiering May 31 and backed by some serious horror heavy hitters like It: Chapter 1 writer Gary Dauberman and The Conjuring and Aquaman director James Wan, Swamp Thing gets back to the character’s roots as it were in hardcore horror.
Though we don’t see Derek Mears’ amazing Swamp Thing for too terribly long in this pilot, writers Dauberman and Mark Verheiden (Constantine and Ash vs. The Evil Dead) and director Len Weisman (Underworld) still keep the scares coming, building up their own dark corner of the DCU just like Swamp Thing’s comics have done in print. Armed with truly impressive makeup effects and engaging characters, Swamp Thing starts off on the right and creepiest foot.
Something dark is stirring in the swamp around the town of Marais. Something so dark it has attracted the attention of the Center of Disease Control, who have sent one of their best virologists, Dr. Abigail Arcane (Crystal Reed) to investigate the spreading contagion. Problem is, Abby used to live in Marais and after a tragedy in her past resolved to never return, lest she incur the wrath of town bigwigs Avery and Maria Sutherland (Will Patton and Virginia Madsen). But after experiencing the strange and terrifying swamp-based mutagens for herself and running across the path of an aloof but noble biologist Alec Holland (Andy Bean), she promises to get to the bottom of this outbreak, no matter the cost.
From what I’ve mentioned above, you can tell that the pilot episode is much more focused on Abby Arcane. And that really works to the episode’s favor. We don’t get much mention of her infamous family just yet, but Crystal Reed’s performance more than holds her own without it. Even better, Dauberman and Verheiden’s first script uses her as an audience surrogate, allowing Abby to drive the introduction of the rest of the major players like Matt Cable, Liz Tremayne, and Madame Xanadu, who has been given a creepy TV makeover beyond her original costume.
Along with the focus on Abby comes a major commitment to horror, spearheaded by Len Weisman’s pointed direction. Starting with a vicious cold open that establishes just how violent the Swamp has become, Weisman draws us deeper into the strange, Southern Gothic town of Marais. Using tautly deployed scares, Weisman completely devotes the tone of the pilot to uneasiness, staging most of the action with humid-looking, heavily filtered camera shots. The production even sweetens the pot by favoring more practical make-up effects in lieu of tons of CGI. Sure, there are a few obvious digital augmentations to the pilot’s main set piece, but as viewers will see, this show is not afraid to deploy some truly garish and stomach-churning practical effects in support of their incredible take on Swamp Thing. I don’t want to spoil the best moment of the pilot here, but let’s just say, you’ll never look at your hanging house plants the same ever again.
While I am disappointed at how little we see the titular character overall, the pilot episode of Swamp Thing shows a lot of promise. Unmoored from the rest of the DC Universe’s superheroic output, Mark Verheiden, Gary Dauberman, and Len Weisman, along with a completely game cast and crew, deliver shocks and mucky fun as this pilot stands as a stark genre contrast to the rest of the streaming service’s fare. Gross (but in a very fun way), intriguing, and more than a little bloody, Swamp Thing looks to be a worthy tribute to one of DC’s most famous monsters.