The musical chairs of Constantine’s support casting sees John flying solo this week, with Chas and Zed’s absences justified with the usual throwaway single-sentence explanation. Is this starting to really annoy anyone else? The next job is a local one, bringing him back to the university of Ritchie Simpson (Jeremy Davis; Lost, Justified), the pill-popping professor and surviving member of the Newcastle crew not seen since the pilot episode.
Using the research of dead mystic Jacob Shaw, he and a quartet of his students have been researching the opening of doorways into other worlds. For any smug Hellblazer readers out there, this is nothing to do with cyberspace but more akin to astral travelling, transporting consciousness to another plane while the body remains behind, inert and vulnerable. However, it turns out that the domain accessed is not a mind-expanding pocket universe, but a shadowed netherworld where the murderous Shaw (William Mapother; Lost, Justified) is not only very much alive, but also has omnipotence over its mutable hellscape. He spends his time in a creepy house utilised as his personal slasher movie setting, casting himself as the unstoppable otherworldly killer and the ethnically and demographically diverse group of photogenic students as his latest pool of victims to be stalked through the building’s ever-shifting corridors.
While effectively sinister, the scenes don’t offer anything more than what you’ve seen before in three dozen ‘80s horror films, as the disposable teens are bloodily mutilated in a variety of not especially interesting ways. Even the scenario’s most noteworthy concept – wounds sustained while in the ethereal realm also affecting the physical body – has a renowned precedent in A Nightmare On Elm Street.
The cause of the deaths is ascertained with relative speed and ease, but due to Shaw’s supremacy within his self-contained world, actually stopping him is another matter entirely, and unfortunately is ultimately achieved in a rather disappointing manner. While it quite rightly observes that ultimate power is only as effective as the imagination wielding it, it still comes off as a couple of steps shy of a deus ex machina.
Ritchie’s appearance in Non Est Asylum was merely to provide some technical assistance while underscoring how much of a bastard Constantine can be by blackmailing someone he purports to be friends with, but he’s a lot more interesting this time around. Davies offers a perfect portrayal of a man utterly devoid of all hope or sense of worth, where every day is a somnambulist shuffle through an empty existence accompanied by a struggle to hold back overwhelming despair. Staring into the abyss is usually a metaphor, but those who have truly done so and lived to tell about it cannot come back unchanged. As Ritchie puts it, “You gaze into chaos long enough, it can swallow you whole.”
Like we saw with Anne-Marie in The Saint of Last Resorts, guilt is the primary drive for those who emerged from the Newcastle debacle. Physically alive, but very much psychologically and spiritually broken, they all attempted to escape the accusing fingers of their unforgiving consciences in different ways. Like Anne-Marie’s search for absolution in a nunnery offered a counterpoint to Constantine’s hope for solace in a mental hospital, so Gary Lester’s welcoming of oblivion from recreational drug use is a reflection of Ritchie’s solution: attempting to quite literally abandon reality and flee into another world.
The show has been at its best when driven by characters rather than plot, but apart from Ritchie becoming a little more fleshed out, there isn’t much in the way of interesting people to hold your attention. All in all, A Whole World Out There acts as a perfectly serviceable horror short, but its lack of true innovation or any real story twists prevent it from standing out.
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