Sometimes a story is so delightfully absurd that it actually becomes
quite endearing despite itself. This six part series set on a cruise
ship sails expertly between horror and thriller tropes yet somehow ends up
smelling fresh. Courtesy of writer Ryan J Brown the narrative focusses on
teenager Jamie Walsh who has sneaked on board the cruise shop Sacramentum (even the name is creepy!) in an
attempt to discover what happened to his sister Pippa who seemingly vanished on
the previous cruise. The resulting mystery / thriller/ scare story probably won't help an industry still recovering from the `plague ship` headlines of the pandemic yet becomes a gripping if slightly bonkers joyride.
As Jamie investigates in his naïve way he becomes emmeshed
in the vessel’s extremely unusual inhabitants who include an army of Filipino workers that give out tattoos in the engine
room and appear to be part of the Mafia, the hard partying fraternity of cruise
ship workers, the militaristic crew and the snobbish super rich whose cordoned
off area of the ship holds some very dark secrets. Honestly what occurs is so unlikely
yet somehow wins you over through the sheer enthusiasm of the ensemble plus the
fact it does contain some genuine `jump out of your seat`shocks – especially one
early in episode 2- most revolving around the seeming killer who is dressed in
a giant duck suit. Don’t laugh - really you won’t believe how scary a huge duck
head staring directly at you in the half light can be! It is this mixture of
the comedic and the brutal that works time and again.
So it functions on several levels. It has the tautness of
a secret investigation as not only has Jamie taken on the identity of someone
else but that person has sneaked on board. It can be a whodunnit and you can have
fun predicting who the actual killer is even though that turns out to be a bit
less significant than it at first seemed. You can recoil (or enjoy) genuinely
creepy sequences and then the characterful exchanges. The narrative is also
deep enough to delve into issues of race, sexuality, social attitudes and more.
You can tell this is a script that has really been worked through because each
time you start thinking “Yeah but why…” that query is answered and the story
glides on. It helps too that the fantastic sets look so realistic and there's a suitably large number of extras to convince that we really are on a leisure cruise
in the middle of the ocean.
The big angle the initial reviews picked up on was the
way that sexuality is used by making both lead characters gay and each develop relationships
with other characters but for this not to be the main point of the narrative. I
just wish the script was as subtle when it comes to the bigger reveal of the
true nature of the super rich passengers. I appreciate that hating the rich is
probably the last acceptable social prejudice however I would question whether
any but the most clinically insane would engage in the activities
depicted here. While it does provide an unbelievably tense final couple of episodes
it is here that the story also jumps not just the shark but probably the whale!
The nuances imbued in the other characters are notably absent when it comes to
the first class ensemble. Let's not forget though that this is ostensibly a comedy so these shortfalls don't wreck the gripping, blood
drenched finale which is a winning combination of gore, violence and some
character work in there too.
The cast is led by Oscar Kennedy who also fought against zombies in the enjoyable film Schools Out Forever. He has a very
expressive face so you can feel every emotion and here there are several occasions
when he looks absolutely terrified which helps sell even the silliest moments.
Thaddea Graham has further perfected the sharp- tongued sarcasm she
brought lately to both Doctor Who and Us though arguably it suits
her character here even more. To be enjoyed too are Warren James Dunning as a
psychotic officer who will put you off cruise ships forever and Amber Grappy
who brings a lovely common-sense calm while all around is going mad. It ends with a resolution that allows space for a sequel
though its hard to see just how the idea can be repeated with as much impact.
Now a series in which young investigators Jamie and Vivian try to solve mysteries
would be a great idea…