On Friday night, BBC America screened the first episode of its upcoming series Intruders, starring John Simm, Mira Sorvino, and James Frain. It was bananas. Creepy bananas. Here are our spoiler-free first impressions.
My first impulse was to write a review that was just the word "what" over and over. Because Intruders is actually that weird. It's clearly a slow-burn mystery show, because this isn't the kind of first episode that explains the whole premise to viewers. The mystery is wrapped up in violence, musings on immortality, old jazz music, and a child who isn't just a little girl. According to the official description, it's about a secret society that finds refuge in the bodies of other people. And that? It's all you can really get from the first episode, too.
While John Simm has a pretty standard "my wife's gone missing" plot going on, the episode is littered with enigmatic moments hinting at the rules of this show's world. There are no concrete explanations. But we do get the sense that all our main characters — who exhibit seemingly irrational changes in behavior — are struggling with "intruders" who wants to rule their bodies.
Connecting these disparate moments is Richard Shepherd, played by James Frain. I found Frain's presence very comforting. Not because his character is comforting — objectively, his character does a lot of horrible things. But he's the only person who seems to know what's going on. In a sea of confusing moments, Shepherd's scary competence in his mission stabilizes everything.
Plus, Frain's flat-out good in this role. He isn't just a man on a mission; he's a man who is uncomfortable with what that mission asks of him. Throughout the episode, he does a lot of things without showing remorse, but there's one thing he has to do that he just doesn't feel is right. Because of that, he makes a huge mistake. It's not just an important plot point — it also gives his character more depth. Frain said in the Q&A after the pilot that we'd discover that Shepherd has "very complicated" motives.
Simm plays Jack Whelan, who ends up drawn into this whole thing through his wife, played by Mira Sorvino. Both are fine, although John Simm's American accent is just ever-so-slightly-not-right. Sorvino plays the shift from normal woman to woman-with-a-secret very deftly.
There's some kind of internal struggle going on with me and I'm very sad and tortured. And then you see some strange switches in behavior. There's clearly an internal tug-of-war happening.
She also hinted that the jazz music mortif of her character is "very important to the story."
The most surprising part of the show was how good Millie Brown was. She's playing a nine-year-old who also has an internal struggle followed by a transformation in her behavior. In the hands of some child actors, this could have been a disaster. But it's not: She's great. As a normal girl trapped in this situation, she's heart-breaking. As the other side of her personality, she is shit-your-pants scary. There is a moment in this episode that, even though I kind of guessed where it was going, was still so horrifying I had to look away. And Brown plays it all very well.
The Horror and Mystery of It All
This show is going to be violent, and it does not shy away from it at all. If that's not your kind of scary, skip this. There are all kinds of gruesome deaths in the first episode: Some mysterious and some that just need to happen. And they show a lot of blood.
This is horror playing on a lot of levels. There's the part about losing control of your body. There's a theme about immortality and the desperate way people try to hold on to their lives. There's the psychological trauma of Simm's character losing his wife and learning there's some secret to find. There's a conspiracy-thriller vibe running through all of Frain's scenes. And there's the shock and horror of the violence. It's all thrown into the first episode, and it's difficult to guess exactly where it's all headed.
It's a slickly-produced show with some good performances. And a slow-burn approach is always nice. With only eight episodes in the first season, we hope it'll be tightly focused and not weighed down by all the things hinted at in the first episodes. If nothing else, you leave really wanting to know more. I wanted to pick up the Michael Marshall Smith novel it's based on just because it made me so curious.
Intruders will premiere on BBC America August 23rd.