James Cameron realized early on there was no way to top Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” The horror film in space was such a unique experience that revisiting it would cheapen the sequel and the original. Cameron instead made “Aliens” a complimentary film that retained the spirit of its predecessor while going its own route of a heavy action piece set in the Alien universe.
With the original series continuing down its well-established action road, the “Fear the Walking Dead” showrunners knew they needed to take this spin-off in the opposite direction.
If the first episode is any indication, “Fear the Walking Dead” is going to keep you firmly at the edge-of-your-seat and feature far fewer appearances of our favorite flesh-munchers. It’s a fascinating spin on the franchise that looks to be much more of a psychological thriller than its more action-focused big brother.
Like “Alien,” which only featured one xenomorph, “FWD” keeps the number of walkers to a minimum and plays with audience expectation fully anticipating a walker lurker around every corner.
Director Adam Davidson quickly establishes the tense mood as junkie Nick (Frank Dillane, a dead ringer for a young Johnny Depp) awakens from getting high and stumbles through a shuttered church.
Dillane lurches and drags along like a walker in a nice tease to TWD fans waiting on a walker to pounce any second. But when that moment arrives, Nick flees and emerges into a decidedly safer Los Angeles than the war torn Atlanta nightmare Rick Grimes discovered.
The walkers may have arrived, but they haven’t overrun the city yet. That sense of dread is only heightened as we’re slowly introduced to the rest of the cast — not knowing who will be the Ricks, Carols, Daryls and Carls or who won’t be around for the season finale.
Nick’s mother, Madison (Kim Dickens, “Gone Girl“), is stressed out dealing with his latest incident. Her daughter, Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey, “Into the Storm“), is ready to get away from all the family drama. Madison’s boyfriend/co-worker, Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) is trying to be supportive as he’s dealing with his own issues with his ex-wife and fractured relationship with his son.
Nick seems like he’s going to be the annoying character by episode 3 we’re all going to want to see become walker food, but Dillane, like the rest of the cast, does a fine job quickly establishing their characters.
Making the junkie the first one to encounter a walker was a brilliant twist. The viewer knows he wasn’t hallucinating, but it’s hard to blame everyone else for questioning his credibility.
We know what’s in store for the characters and chuckle when a character remarks over the lack of school attendance thanks to a virus that’s going around. Oh, if only it was a bad strand of the flu unless it’s Captain Trips of course.
The characters’ inexperience with the undead is welcome and the characters confusion and terror is something TWD viewers haven’t seen in a long time.
Hopefully the writers will make the character’s learning curve much steeper as society gradually crumbles under the onslaught of the walkers.
Davidson is focused on sticking to the title making sure to create an uneasy, nerve-rattling mood, which is further enhanced by Paul Haslinger’s score.
By the end of the episode, Madison and Travis encounter a walker and realize things are about to get a lot worse than dealing with her junkie son. But for Walking Dead fans, the fun is just getting started.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10 This was a fantastic opening act that definitely has me interested in what’s to come and how this spin-off will further develop and expand going forward.