'Harper's Island'


If "Harper's Island" were a self-aware spoof of the horror genre, it would be amazing — like "Shaun of the Dead"-level good. But the problem with CBS' new horror-mystery-soap mash-up is that it's completely earnest in its awfulness: the clunky dialogue full of lines you've heard before; the plot twists you remember from every B horror movie; the stock characters whose sole purpose is to annoy you into hoping they get killed soon; the cheesy music cues and intruders that turn out to be just a flock of birds; etc. Every single fragment of the series has been scavenged from other shows or movies. It's as if someone handed creator Ari Schlossberg a book on how to make a boilerplate, uninteresting slasher flick, and he lovingly followed every step.

The series opens with a party-boat ride from Seattle to Harper's Island, where Henry (Christopher Gorham) and Trish (Katie Cassidy) are going to be married. The boat is stocked with the friends and extended family who will form the flock from which the killer will separate one sheep at a time, and given the sheer number of ancillary characters and their guaranteed low survival rate, it's pointless to talk about any but those clearly meant to live for a while.

Henry's best friend from childhood, Abbey (Elaine Cassidy), also shows up to spend the week on the island. She and Henry grew up there, and Abbey's mother was murdered seven years earlier by a psycho on a killing spree that's probably going to factor into the new spate of murders.

Schlossberg and director Jon Turteltaub (who also exec produces) clearly are going for a "Ten Little Indians" vibe as the characters are drawn together and wind up revealing bits and pieces of their past, all while a murderer appears in their midst and takes out a member of the party during the first episode. (And never mind the fact that the island isn't deserted or isolated, so there's no reason for anyone to stick around once bodies start to pile up.)

But instead of suspense, the series creates only an illusion of tension. Mysteries work only when the audience becomes invested in the characters, and Schlossberg's are too flatly drawn to be anything but lame caricatures. What's more, he so overloads the script that most of the people we're at least superficially supposed to care about are given only two or three lines, their identities painted in the broadest of strokes. There's just no focus to be found.

Ultimately, the series commits the greatest sin of the thriller genre: It's boring.