REVIEW: ‘The Head’ Is a Must Watch Murder Mystery

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The Head

The Head is an HBO Max original directed by Jorge Dorado. Originally produced by HBO Asia and released abroad in Summer 2020, The Head is the latest in HBO Max’s impressive array of international content distribution. Over six hour-long episodes, an impressive and daunting murder mystery unfolds at the arctic research station Polaris VI. When the summer crew returns to take over for the winter crew, it’s been three weeks without contact. And with good reason. The whole crew is either dead or missing.

The Head‘s premise alone is extraordinary. It’s far from every day that you have a show set in Antarctica, and setting a whodunnit there is just genius. The over-winter crews at Antarctic research stations are bare-bones, comprised of only the absolute most essential personnel to conduct research and keep the station running. The crew’s highly specialized nature and the trickling descent deeper into the mystery of the show make for utterly fascinating scenarios intellectually, let alone the unique kills and other twists and turns it allows.

The research that was going on at Polaris VI had the potential to end climate change. Framing the whole show around not just a very realistic scientific endeavor but one that the entire world wishes could be real helps give this whodunnit an extra layer of captivating. Will their research endure the crisis? The setting is outstanding, and so is the actual set and design. You could not convince me the show wasn’t filmed in actual Antarctica, and the outdoor shots are absolutely frigid, snowstorm-ridden, and empty. And that emptiness is what sets the tone so well. In the middle of the South Pole, nobody can hear your scream.

The tightness inside the research station sharply juxtaposes the emptiness of the outdoors. The show opens with a party with dozens of people celebrating the end of their stint in the base and marking the last day of sunlight for the next six months. You see how much Polaris VI is their home. There are pool tables and tons of booze, people are barbequing outside, and everyone’s quarters look very lived-in. The place is just homey. But once the mystery begins, this homey space quickly becomes claustrophobic since the over-winter crew is trapped inside with a murderer, a dead body, and not an ounce of trust in one another, despite many of them having known each other for years.

The characters are all equally captivating and suspicious. There are not more than ten minutes at a time where I suspected the same person of being the killer before becoming convinced of their innocence or somebody else’s guilt. Because every person at Polaris VI has their own specific job, they also have very different personalities and reasons for being there.

More so, the acting is simply phenomenal—specifically the physical acting. There are moments where I absolutely would believe anybody who told me the actors were actually stuck in -30 celsius Antarctica by themselves with a murderer after them. The moments, for example, when characters are in distress are physically acted impeccably. At one point, a character has to take off their clothes and slide through a metal shaft outside. The way her entire body quakes as she touches the metal as her face is filled with sheer terror was truly one of the best instances of physical acting I have ever seen.

Another exceptional aspect of The Head is its sound design. There are so many little noises here and there that are seemingly mundane but raise the suspense considerably. Even more so, the score is not only suspenseful, but it’s terrifying. In combination with long camera shots and constantly framing only one person at a time, there are many near horror aspects to how the show looks, sounds, and feels. I was constantly pumped with cortisol and waiting for a jump scare that never came. This use of light horror elements helped set my expectations and keep me constantly on my toes in a way perfect for a murder mystery without ever leaning into terror or exploitation as a crutch.

A few words of warning: there are very intense depictions of dead bodies and sexual violence in this show. Some of these moments are very drawn out and deeply uncomfortable. But the whole show is washed in discomfort. It’s geniusly told through unreliable narrators who survived the murders, and not a moment passes where you can believe a word anybody is saying. And as the plot thickens and thickens, The Head leaves you questioning your own ability to track time through the story and whose stories are reliable.

When it was all over, I sat there holding my head for probably ten minutes straight. I was crying, I was reeling, and I was absolutely shocked. Not a single expectation I had was upheld, and I am simply floored by how well the caper concluded. I still don’t know who to believe and how much to believe them. Seriously, move over Knives Out. The Head is the best murder mystery of the decade so far.

The Head is a stunning, captivating, beautiful short series that deserves endless praise. The story itself may not necessarily be the most novel in construction, but the setting, the backdrop, the acting, and the directing are simply magnificent. I cannot possibly give the show higher praise.

The Head is streaming now on HBO Max.

The Head
  • 9.5/10
    Rating - 9.5/10
9.5/10

TL;DR

The Head is a stunning, captivating, beautiful short series that deserves endless praise. The story itself may not necessarily be the most novel in construction, but the setting, the backdrop, the acting, and the directing are simply magnificent. I cannot possibly give the show higher praise.