Sunday, July 19, 2020

Review: Dead Still

During the pandemic lockdown, there’s been no better use of my money than the six bucks I spend on Acorn TV every month. It would be a bargain if you only got one or two shows out of it, but you’ll get more than that, trust me.
Acorn’s catalog runs the gamut from light and frothy cozy mysteries to dark serial killer sagas. Most of them are pretty above-board; what it looks like in the promo and description is what you’re going to get. But not Dead Still. It’s set in 1880s Ireland and features a “memorial photographer,” i.e. someone who takes pictures of the dead as if they were still living. 
Yep, she's dead.
Okay, so you know it’s going to be a little creepy (by today’s standards; the Victorians thought nothing of it). But it turned out to be much more than that.
My first thought—why has this never been done before? How perfect a profession to become embroiled in a murder. And the show’s creators run with it, embracing the macabre aspects and sprinkling it with morbid humor.
There certainly are standard elements, like the new apprentice and the rebellious young relative. They’re done well and allowed to grow within the season’s six episodes. My favorite, though, is the ferocious terrier of a police detective who won’t stop biting at people’s ankles.
One thing a lot of shows don’t even try for is atmosphere. It’s difficult to do well, and getting it wrong can mean devolving into camp. Dead Still nails it. It feels effortlessly grimy and dark and claustrophobic. The pacing contributes to this. It’s different from most shows, slower and more languid in a way that contributes to the overall impact. The whole thing is delightfully different.
If you’re looking to shake up your mystery viewing as we enter another round of stay-at-home orders, this curious show is just the ticket.

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