Swamp Thing: Series Premiere Review

While DC has surely struggled to bring some of their iconic comic book characters to the world of live action, they’ve been finding more and more success with some of their latest outings. Movies like Aquaman and Shazam! have reignited hope for the DCEU, or whatever they’re calling it now, and their streaming service has brought some new shows, like Titans and Doom Patrol, that’s captured the attention of fans and critics alike. This is especially impressive for Titans considering how much backlash DC received for the trailers and the darker tone they presented. Thankfully, though, many still gave the show a chance and when they saw that DC could deliver appealing live-action content for the small screen, outside of the Arrowverse, people started to change their tone when discussing what DC has to offer.

All of this is what made the announcement of DC developing a live-action version of Swamp Thing so appealing. Not only would the show bring one of DC’s most horror inspired comic series to the small screen, but it would also see James Wan coming on as a producer after the success of Aquaman. While I actually don’t know much about Swamp Thing or anything about his comic storyline, as a huge horror fan, I was incredibly interested to see if Swamp Thing could deliver something fresh for the genre and I did not leave disappointed.

Right from the start, you can tell that Swamp Thing is unique just from its setting alone. The Louisiana setting is oddly refreshing and works well with horror aesthetic the show is going for. It’s honestly nice to have a superhero story not take place in a bustling city and the environment brings this creepy atmosphere. The swamp is constantly shown to be dense and is almost a character in itself as its shown to be a strong part of the show’s town of Marais. Clearly the townspeople of Marais see the swamp as a force of nature and that they recognize the fever that plagues their town and forces Dr. Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) of the Center of Disease Control (CDC) to come to attempt to stop it. It’ll be interesting to see how this changes once Swamp Thing lurks out of the swamp for everyone to see.

swamp-thing
The space between scares makes each one more memorable and much more effective. PHOTO: Entertainment Weekly

This premiere also establishes how deep its roots in horror are going to be and there’s a great use of practical effects to create some horrifying sequences. The entire sequence involving Abby finding Coyle’s body in his house is full of well-built suspense and seeing the vines sprawled and embedded into the wall really creates a creepy environment. There’s even a reanimation sequence with Coyle’s body later in the episode that feels straight out of John Carpenter’s The Thing and I loved every second of it. Even the look of Swamp Thing benefits from the stronger use of practical effects and I’m excited to see what Derek Mears can bring to role as the titular character. I will say that the CGI effects of the swamp were lacking at times and that it made me hope the rest of the series leans more heavily into practical effects, but they don’t strongly detract from the episode at all.

Honestly, what impressed me more was how the scares well so well used and spaced out for each one to come off as surprising.  I just wish that what happens in between them was a little more intriguing to watch as most of the episode is just character and plot exposition dumps. Now, I can understand the episode’s need to explain everything and have a lot of set-up as it’s a series premiere and, honestly, Swamp Thing isn’t exactly a well-known series, but I wish they implemented more show don’t tell elements to introduce the characters. A lot of viewers getting to know the characters is through them pretty much just talking about themselves or having conversations with one another. Frankly, I wanted to have more environmental storytelling, especially because the swamp is just a strong part of the story, maybe some uses of flashbacks that delve deeper into Abby’s past in Marais and the relationship between her and the Sunderlands.

Regardless of the generic delivery of the exposition, I still developed an interest in the characters and the direction for the series. To be fair a lot of the characters come off as generic with their traditional attributes: Abby is a local who’s troubled past makes coming back to Marais a difficult situation, Holland is the strange outsider, Avery Sunderland (Will Patton) is local political figure with ulterior motives, and his wife Maria (Virginia Madsen) is angry about Abby’s return because of past events.

Swamp Thing -- Episode 101-- "Pilot"
Bean (Left) and Reed (Right) share some solid chemistry on-screen with each other and we learn a little more about them through their conversations. PHOTO: Paste Magazine

The sort of typical character traits are elevated, though, through the likable performances that come from the cast. Reed is fun and complicated as Abby and her determination to stop the fever that’s plaguing Marais is pretty admirable and emphasized well. I do wish that her and most of the other characters had a stronger Louisiana accent to make them connect to environment a little bit better. This would also put a stronger emphasis on Holland being an outsider and sort of an oddity in the town. Bean puts in a charming performance and really brings out Holland’s obsession with what’s happening in the swamp, as well as his love for Columbo styled mysteries, through his manic and persistence performance. The episode’s finale, while showing us early glimpses of Mears as the titular Swamp Thing, also has something that surprised me with Holland, mostly because of my lack of knowledge of the comics. For avid fans of the comic, it likely won’t come as a surprise, but I liked how the episode builds Holland’s character and it will be interesting to see how him being an outsider will play a part with where he is at the end of the episode.

While its premiere doesn’t necessarily reveal much about its characters or story, Swamp Thing is not to like as a horror fan and I’m definitely intrigued to see where everything goes. From the location and atmosphere to the skin-crawling practical effects to the sense of mystery that surrounds the direction the story is going; Swamp Thing definitely has the potential to be another fresh outing for DC. If you’re looking for something strange and unlike anything in comic genre, Swamp Thing should definitely be on your watchlist.

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Watch the Trailer Here:

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