40 min. each, 2010
Written by Phillip Van/Mat Bunnell
Directed by Phillip Van
My rating: ★★★★
A bright start to a mediocre game.
* * *
I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing writing about a web series that acts as a prequel to a video game. For one thing, Forced Viewing’s “Blood on the Net” is usually links to internet videos, NOT actual reviews of said videos. For the second part, I’m not the “Angry” guy who covers video games at Channel Awesome. That’s some other Joe. No, my bread and butter is television and comic book reviews. Still, I’ve always felt that when you’re passionate about something only good things can come from exploring those feelings. With the possible exception of my lifetime ban from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.
A little background. BRIGHT FALLS, the series in question, is a prequel to the video game ALAN WAKE. Wake is a horror writer whose wife is kidnapped by a supernatural entity in the fictional town of Bright Falls, Washington. The game itself was intended to be the first ever Sandbox (or “open world”) horror game, but when that fell apart, it ended up being a rather linear horror story. It falls somewhere between TWIN PEAKS and Dean Koontz’s PHANTOMS (the book, not the movie…although Affleck was da’ bomb). I played it. It was okay. Still, as part of the build-up, the developers released BRIGHT FALLS.
A six-part series, each episode lasting somewhere from 4 to 8 minutes. It lives in the moment, never giving us the full answers we want, but providing an experience of gothic visuals and supernatural mystery.
The opening titles are sheer brillance. We pass through a foggy, cobwebbed forest, almost failing to notice someone walking off in one corner of the screen, we pass by him, into a clearing of dead trees as fog quickly obscures our view. The muted palate that accompanies the deep chords of music immediately sets the tone for our experience.
The main character is Jake, played by Christopher Forsyth. He’s running from a troubled relationship and has come to Bright Falls to interview Dr. Emil Hartman, one of the game’s characters. The first episode slaps you around with some of the aforementioned TWIN PEAKS quirkiness, but just as you start to worry you’re in for a lot of eye-rolling, we’re shocked into “What The Hell” territory by episode’s end.
As the story progresses, Jake has uncomfortable encounters with a female acquaintance and Dr. Hartman, before experiencing a blackout, something that tells him his troubles are just beginning. By episode three, Jake realizes something strange is happening to him, as we’re treated to a side story following the owner of the motel that Jake is staying at. As Jake begins to realize he’s not the only one being affected by the town, he becomes increasingly desperate to find out what’s happening to him. To this end, Jake has an unsettling encounter with a pen light and then tapes himself to his refrigerator. The final episode is both the strongest and weakest. It opens with a police officer volunteering a lame justification for a destroyed room. Still, the second half has two of my favorite moments in the whole series. I won’t spoil them for you, but when the first happens you’ll know it. Look for a single shoe. It’s a few moments later that you see the second moment. You’ll slowly realize something’s wrong with this picture. As Jake’s story comes to an end, Alan Wake and his wife drive into town (hey, it is a prequel).
You won’t get any answers in this series as to what’s going on. To find your answers you’ll have to play ALAN WAKE…or at least dive into the game’s Wikipedia page.
There’s a lot of great imagery here. From the sign Jake sees at the end of episode one, to a garbage can filled with broken light bulbs, to a panning shot of a destroyed room as sounds of violence play on a television. You get the feeling this series was done on the cheap, but it never feels like the people making it didn’t care. The few CGI shots that are in here are a bit on the tacky side, but most of the series is practically shot and looks beautiful. A lot of care went into crafting BRIGHT FALLS.
The series is never bloody but relies on good old-fashioned suspense and tension, which I’ve always felt is far scarier than severed rubber limbs and fake blood by the gallon. The best scary moments are the ones where I realize I’ve been holding my breath the whole time just so I could hear the silence on the screen a little bit better in the (vain) hope of hearing the killer before he strikes.
The whole series is available on Machinima’s YouTube channel. You can watch it in a full 30-minute version, but I almost think you’re better watching it in the original six episode format. Letting those tiny bits of weirdness eat away at your sanity before coming back for more. Much like I will eventually come back for more at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
But perhaps I’ve said too much.