REVIEW: ‘Swamp Thing,’ Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot”

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Swamp Thing is a brand new series exclusively streaming on The DC Universe. The show is based on the DC Comic character of the same name, Swamp Thing. Additionally, the show is produced by James Wan, the horror legend behind the Saw, Conjuring Universe, and Aquaman. Wan’s horror roots are weaved through the entirety of the episode from start to finish.

The pilot episode starts off with a group of men dumping boxes into a swamp as instructed by an unnamed party. In an extremely unnerving and gruesome scene, the men are killed by the vines of the swamp. The show quickly cuts to Dr. Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service who travels from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Marias, Lousiana, her hometown, to investigate a strange and deadly virus in the swamplands. Once arriving, Arcane with the help of Officer Matt Cable (Henderson Wade) and biologist Alec Holland (Andy Bean) realize just how bizarre this infection is. Holland and Arcane then travel to Holland’s lab, funded by local Avery Sunderland (Will Patton) to further test out some of Holland’s more outrageous findings.

Swamp Thing primarily falls within the Infection subgenre of horror but also leans into body horror. The mysterious virus leaves victims covered in vines dripping with a sickly green mucus. The vines not only wrap around the victims but puncture through the body and offices decimating the corpses. Victims turn an unnatural gray. The visuals around the victims are downright gross, but they are also supposed to be. A lot of these scenes are reminiscent of the movie The Fly and the chest-bursting scene from Alien.

Unlike previous DC Universe shows, Swamp Thing excels at building tension and creating unease. The horror elements never feel forced and instead flow well within the context, theme, and pacing of the show. The score is uncomfortable but in the best way as it eases between very low and very high pitches, a necessary staple in any good horror soundtrack. Swamp Thing is also shot through a sickly green filter making the color palate look muddled. But the bleak grays and greens match the overall aesthetic of not only the show but also character Swamp Thing and the panels he is more commonly seen on.  This aesthetic is also seen in the show’s cinematography. A lot of shots utilize lighting and often vines to create beautifully eerie visuals.

The setting of Lousiana’s swamplands, while a little exaggerated, overall work well. The locals are mostly, outside of Matt and the hospital staff, caricatures of Louisianians and something you would see on Swamp People. Even before any reveal of Swamp Thing, the locals refer to the swamp as if it is its own entity. During a town hall, one local implies that this virus is just payback for all that has been taken from the swamp, imploring the local government to stop cutting down trees and polluting the waterways. Additionally, Avery mentions the swamp took his father but also has given the town “a whole way of life.” The setting of the show itself, the swampland is a character in and of itself.

There are some issues I have are with costuming choices. Holland only wears flip-flops despite being in a lab, where traditional rules regulate the need for closed toed shoes, and Arcane at the beginning of the episode informs the hospital staff everyone should wear gloves, masks, and goggles while interacting with the patient. However, immediately following that exchange, Arcane speaks to a young patient and is not wearing all the proper personal protection equipment. This happens again when she performs an autopsy on a victim’s corpse with her hair down and no mask or goggles. It is a small nitpick but enough to take me out of the story.

Despite these odd costuming issues, Reed is believable as Arcane. She plays the character with compassion and underlying intelligence. It is always exciting to see a show based around not only a woman but a woman in science. Holland is played by Bean with a jerkish charm but never comes off as unlikeable.

Overall, Swamp Thing‘s pilot is a good start to what has the potential to be a potent and thrilling environmental tale. While at times a tad slow, the episode is filled with fantastic exposition and cinematics that keep it engaging. The final reveal at the end of the episode is climactic and sets the tone for the episodes going forward.

Swamp Thing‘s first episode is available now on the DC Universe with its next one dropping Friday, June 7, 2019.

Swamp Thing Episode 1, "Pilot"
  • 8/10
    Swamp Thing Episode 1, "Pilot" - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Overall, Swamp Thing‘s pilot is a good start to what has the potential to be a potent and thrilling environmental tale. While at times a tad slow, the episode is filled with fantastic exposition and cinematics that keep it engaging. The final reveal at the end of the episode is climactic and sets the tone for the episodes going forward.