Review by Craig Morrow
The genre lines in modern cinematic sci-fi have been blurred for, I’d say, a good eight years now. Sometime after the indie downer The Road but before the blockbust smash of The Hunger Games. Dystopian future stories took on a shiny asthetic, they starred beautiful young people and elaborate technology all under the control of an oppressive state that didn’t understand them or let them soar towards their dreams. And yup, we were getting all 70% of our big budget sci-fi content from young adult novels. It’s OK if you liked them, I admit it, I loved season one and two of The 100. But apart from the more adult Fury Road, nothing else was connecting with audiences. In 2016, those Divergents had grown up, left these franchises in the Maze and never wanted to play with Ender ever again.
A year later, we get A Handmaid’s Tale, a reimagining of a Margret Atwood book from the ‘80s that I never read. It’s dark as fuck. It’s brutal. It’s probably the most moving dystopian future story I’ve seen since Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes way back in 2014.
The stage is set not too far in the future. The US government has been overthrown by a religious group who believes we’re all living in sin and that’s why reproduction is so scarce. God is punishing our horrible ways. So they round everyone up. Separate families. Kill those most unholy or whoever resists, but they lock away the fertile women and they become Handmaids to the powerful leaders. No one has rights or choice in this world but the Handmaids have been stripped of dignity and even relationships as they have a sole purpose to be impregnated by the commanders and have their kids. This reminded me of Children Of Men, but this new America is more cultish and although the world frowns on what’s happening, it maintains that things are better than anywhere else and assume everyone is happy to be serving the Lord.
There are many emotional turns during the ten episodes. In the beginning most come from the details of the world as they are slowly revealed. The second half is filled with moments of suspense and some major “Holy shit! I can’t believe this!” plot points.
The acting is spot on. Elisabeth Moss plays Jane, our Handmaid and guide. She’s desperate, she’s numb, she’s angry and tragic. The writers put her through it all and she delivers, even in the few comedic breaks. Yvonne Strahovski (Dexter’s old girlfriend) plays a commander’s wife, a seemingly ice-cold woman of the movement. And Joseph Fiennes (of a lot of late 90’s movies you probably forgot you saw fame) plays the Commander as a man walking a fine line between the cause and his lust for power. He’s powerfully creepy(I’d love to cast him, his brother Voldemort and Alex Skardsgard in a movie where they just try and out-psycho each other.)
So the world, the unpredictable twists, the acting and the sheer terrifying, unpolished, glamorless way that this sci-fi dystopian future unfolds is worth every second of time invested. It’s a must watch and it will leave you on a cliffhanger that will bring you back for the next season.