TV reviews

Lore 1×01 – ‘They Made a Tonic’ – Review

Eamon Hennedy reviews the first episode of Lore...

Adapted from a phenomenally popular podcast and boasting names like Gale Anne Hurd and Glen Morgan as executive producers, not to mention involvement from podcast creator Aaron Mahnke, Lore arrives on Amazon Prime Video with an impressive pedigree, but based on this first episode, itself an adaptation of the first episode of the podcast, it is a decidedly mixed affair.

There is so much to like here, but there are also elements that are flawed and problematic. Beginning with a splendid animated sequence depicting the nightmare of being buried alive and the subsequent discovery of such a notion, Lore looks as if it’s going to deliver a unique television experience equal to the podcast it stemmed from, but as such only gets halfway there.

Complete with Mahnke narration, and coming across as Unsolved Mysteries meets The X-Files, the description Mahnke has used himself in describing the podcast, there is so much thrown into this opening episode, “They Made a Tonic”, that one finds themselves desperately wishing that it was better than it was.

Mahnke’s narration feels so natural and engaging in the podcast, but here at times it feels a little stilted in the opening half of the episode, although it does get better as it goes on. The episode cutting back to the narration, complete with an almost Oliver Stone like love of stock footage and all sorts of filmmaking techniques, feels like it’s actually intruding on the good work being done in what is essentially the “reconstruction” elements of the episode.

When the dramatic scenes have a character actor of talent like Campbell Scott involved, one wishes that it would just focus on that solely, and leave the narration to bookmark the beginning and end of the episode. Admittedly this does feature some fantastic editing, complete with all manner of post-production tricks used on its visuals, but in throwing everything against the wall, although well done, it makes one wish it would just focus on either one thing or the other.

Admittedly things settle and it gets better as it goes on, but since this is the opening episode of the show, it feels as if it should be stronger than it is. Jeff Eckerle and Marilyn Osborn’s script does good work, but also betrays some failings in adapting a podcast of this nature to the screen. Darnell Martin’s direction carries a lot of it home, coming off as stylish and provocative, while Campbell Scott’s quietly anguished performance as George Brown is subtle and nicely understated.

Focusing on themes of science vs supernatural belief in a period setting, in this case New England of the 1800’s, there is some brilliant material and thematic elements to chew on, showing how far we’ve come in becoming more sophisticated and equipped in dealing with illness, but given that stories like this one still have the power to continue to weave their spell, it shows that we are still determined to be swept away by the suggestion of the supernatural. It also indicates the practical uses of nipple pinchers and pens in determining if someone is actually dead or not. Always handy to remember.

Martin’s direction also brilliant emphasises the power of imagination over gore. An autopsy scene which was already on course to be the most disturbing part of the episode, brilliantly frames much of the work involved in such a procedure in such a way that the gory and messy details are not shown, leaving the audience with no choice but to fill the gaps within their mind.

It all builds to a suitably downbeat conclusion where George Brown has effectively lost everything, even after the gruelling work he has done in order to save his family, his actions doing nothing more but paving the way to later inspire Bram Stoker to create Dracula. It’s a lovely, ironic touch to end an episode of television that promises so much for the show it’s a part of, but also indicative of flaws that might lie ahead.

Lore is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Let us know what you think of the season…

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