REVIEW: HELIX – SEASON 1 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: BILLY CAMPBELL, KYRA ZAGORSKY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
An Antarctic-based bioresearch facility is the main setting for Cameron Porsandeh’s Helix, one of the latest editions to Syfy’s growing roster of original programming. Helix is structured with a thirteen day episodic narrative, blending whiffs of The X-Files, The Twilight Zone and Fringe with the trappings of a medical drama - more House than Grey’s Anatomy. The show, however, has more in common with horror than the aforementioned; the ‘vectors’ are zombies in all but name.
The show is highly stylised, the editing, in particular, is sharp and slick with many sequences cut together like a Lars von Trier film. The colour palette is striking, mixing harsh reds with moody blues against stark black and, of course, clinical white. The digital effects may leave a lot to be desired, but the make-up and practical effects are spot on.
The opening sequence is an exercise in minimalism, a discipline the latter half of the show sadly failed to utilise. Like The Thing, Helix uses the desolate expanse of the Antarctic to rev up the isolation, desperation and fear.
There’s a dark thread of humour running throughout the series, best realised in the muzak of the title sequence which, like a cosmic joke, interrupts moments of tension and high emotion. Pairing Dionne Warwick’s “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” to a tense and unsettling sequence was a stroke of genius. Gary Jules’ maudlin cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”, however, is cynically used to generate emotion in the place of decent writing.
The characters and cast are a mixed bunch, some, like Catherine Lemieux’s endearing Doreen are great, though others, like Robert Naylor’s The Scythe less so. Campbell whispers his way through the series as Dr Alan Farragut, head of the CDC team sent to the Antarctic to deal with the mysterious disease. Jeri Ryan (Voyager) guest stars as the brilliantly pantomime villain Constance.
The narrative gets progressively weirder but never absurdly so. The story does fall into familiar territory and the spark is lost by the last three or four episodes. Though the series is well-paced, it’s an episode too long. Forty minutes could have been cut leaving a tighter show with fewer cheesy lines.
Helix proves that it’s not masked killers, bloodsuckers or aliens, but disease and illness that’s truly terrifying. It suffers from not living up to the smart, fresh show it set itself up to be, but the final cliffhanger may very well have you counting down for the second series.