BE warned about Nine’s The Following: Watch one episode and you won’t be able to look away, even if you want to.
It’s thrilling stuff and intelligent with it, with the elegance and intensity of Homeland but hyped up on pace and with much more blood.
However while Homeland is a psychological spy thriller/drama, The Following seems to fall into a weird class like horror/drama.
The big bad of The Following is English lecturer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), an expert on Edgar Allan Poe. Carroll’s brilliant, inspiring, charismatic – and a bloody serial killer.
His killings of students have a literary theme to do with Poe – eyes being stabbed out, bodies in walls etc (If you’ve seen the recent release movie The Raven about Poe (played by John Cusack) and a killer copying the murders in his stories, you’ll have a curious sort of background to this). Carroll even wants to finish off a victim who survived all because of Poe’s unfinished story about a lighthouse.
In episode one, he escapes from prison, leaving even more bodies behind him. The FBI agent responsible for locking him up, Ryan Hardy (A-list actor Kevin Bacon), is called out of retirement to help catch him again.
The problem is, when Carroll’s recaptured that’s only the start of the killings. For Carroll has established a cult of devoted followers, a cult of killers and he’s going to pull their strings from behind bars. They’re writing chapters in his story and Carroll even has a role written for Hardy: the flawed hero.
And Hardy is flawed; after being stabbed by Carroll his heart only works because of a pacemaker; he slept with Carroll’s wife (Natalie Zea of Justified) and now he’s washed up, drinking vodka from water bottles during the day and afraid to form attachments.
One of the intriguing elements of The Following is the curious cat and mouse game being played between Carroll and Ryan Hardy, a “what’s-he-up to now?… Well, that’s-for-you-to-find-out, Ryan” sort of theme. Killer and FBI agent are bound by something vaguely nasty; Hardy has written a book about Carroll, Carroll knows Ryan slept with his wife…
But who’s really the hunter and who’s being hunted?
There’s also a sense of not knowing who can be trusted – is your neighbour a killer? Your nanny? – this undertone of menace puts The Following in a class of its own.
But then, just when it looks like it’s turning into a psychological thriller, along comes the splatter. Lots of blood, maiming, all blended with action. I’m not complaining; it’s tense, dark stuff and if it’s extremely violent at times, this is a series about a cult of serial killers after all.
Bacon is appealing as Hardy; the pain of what he’s gone through is written in the lines of his face. He’s damaged, but not quite broken, a loose cannon who’s afraid to get too close to people but still can’t help but care.
And Purefoy is perfect as the charming but soulless Carroll. He has the British accent to begin with which somehow sounds suitably cultivated when he’s unveiling his Poe-inspired schemes to Hardy. He’s handsome, convincing and magnetic; it’s no stretch to imagine him as the master manipulator, the cult leader if you like; a demented master who draws people to him then subtly persuades them to kill or die for him.
Original, intelligent, unusual The Following will draw you in at once. It’s genuinely creepy and frightening and quite relentless. You’ll invest in the characters – and they’re all nicely developed – wince for Hardy and be terrified by Carroll because he is, underneath, too clever. I can only hope his sort of menacing character remains a fictional one.
THE FOLLOWING is on Nine