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The Terror Review: AMC’s New Arctic Thriller Is Ice Cold And Intense

the terror tobias menzies
(Image credit: Image courtesy of AMC)

AMC has a reputation on the small screen for producing series that know how to deliver the frights with shows like The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. The network is delving into the unnerving once more with The Terror, which examines human nature when men are forced to face impossible odds (and an unexpected threat) in one of the most unforgiving environments on the planet. The Terror is ice cold and intense as it delves into the horrors that can happen in the darkest and coldest places on Earth.

The Terror is based on the real-life expedition of a Royal Navy voyage into the far north in 1845 on the mission to locate the Northwest Passage. Two ships -- Terror and Erebus -- carrying more than 120 men ventured forth yet never returned, and their fates remained unknown. The ships were discovered in recent years, but the final days of the crew will never be fully and factually explained. That's where The Terror comes in to fill in the blanks.

Jared Harris stars as Captain Francis Crozier, an incomparable sailor who is held back in the British Royal Navy due to his lack of social status and the fact that he's an Irishman and alcoholic. Crozier is captain of the Terror and second-in-command on the expedition for the Northwest Passage under Sir John Franklin (Ciaran Hinds), who has the status and social grace Crozier lacks, although none of the seafaring brilliance. Captain James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies) is a rising star in the Royal Navy and particular friend to Sir John, but very much not a confidante to Crozier. The mission to discover the Northwest Passage hits a snag when the cold becomes too much for the ships, and they're frozen in place with no hope of movement. More than a hundred men are stranded together, and that doesn't mean anything good.

the terror jared harris

(Image credit: Image courtesy of AMC)

Dr. Harry Goodsir (Paul Ready) is the least experienced of the medical men on the expedition, but his curiosity and enthusiasm for learning makes him a key member of the crew. Crewman Cornelius Hickey (Adam Nagaitis) has a dangerous secret and ambitious streak that set him apart. After the men of the expedition encounter members of the indigenous Netsilik people, including a shaman and his daughter (Nive Nielsen), they find themselves facing something they never expected in the far north: a monster. Faced with dwindling resources, faltering hopes, and the growing likelihood of death, the men are driven to frightening extremes.

Created David Kajganich, The Terror is executive produced by Ridley Scott and Soo Hugh for AMC. The ten-part anthology series is visually stunning as it manages to capture landscapes that are simultaneously bleak and beautiful. It's easy to relate to the crew's growing unease at their surroundings as well as Dr. Goodsir's fascination with everything the Arctic has to offer. Shot in Budapest, Hungary, the series truly takes viewers on a chilling adventure into isolation that sets the tone for the... well, terror of what the men encounter in the far north.

Obviously The Terror would be a disappointment if it failed to deliver frights. Fortunately, the series more than provides in the fright department, largely thanks to how the early episodes take the time to develop an atmosphere that is somehow both vastly empty and incredibly claustrophobic. The majority of the British men on the crews of Terror and Erebus were woefully unprepared for what they would face if they were frozen into place for a full winter, and the addition of a mysterious monster only escalates the unease until a breaking point. Basically, The Terror becomes a sort of hybrid of Lord of the Flies and Jaws with the simultaneous exploration of human nature under extreme conditions and a deadly creature in the mix.

the terror amc

(Image credit: Image courtesy of AMC)

Where The Terror falters is how it doesn't really commit to either the Lord of the Flies/human nature side or the Jaws/monster side of the story. The split doesn't always work for a series that only runs for ten episodes, and a side plot following a couple of characters existing outside of these plots feels more or less unnecessary. The Terror will certainly send chills up and down your spine, but you may find yourself glancing at the clock in between some of the chilling scenes. The show also takes a couple of episodes to really get going, although the good news is that the series premiere will be a two-hour event.

Fortunately, the cast is stellar enough to compensate for any shortcomings. Jared Harris is masterful as Francis Crozier from start to finish. Fans who know him best for Mad Men and/or The Crown will see him flex his acting muscles and turn in a performance unlike any before, and he's a riveting anchor for the intensity. Ciaran Hinds is perfectly cast as Sir John Franklin, and Tobias Menzies takes his character on a journey that adds a great deal of depth to a role that starts out rather basic. He's no Black Jack Randall in The Terror, and he's especially strong in scenes opposite Harris. Paul Ready is wonderful as Dr. Goodsir, and Adam Nagaitis as Mr. Hickey is another stroke of casting genius. Nice Nielsen could have had more to do as Lady Silence, but she's excellent when featured.

All things considered, The Terror is certainly worth the watch if you enjoy a good thriller every once in a while. It is an anthology series, so there's no need to worry about a huge cliffhanger of a finale. Viewers who read the Terror book by Dan Simmons on which the monster element of the story is based should enjoy comparing the page to the screen.

The series premiere of The Terror will air on Monday, March 26 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. If you're an AMC Premiere subscriber, you can binge-watch the entire season starting on Monday night as well. For more viewing options, be sure to swing by our midseason TV premiere guide and our 2018 Netflix premiere schedule. For the network shows that have already gotten the axe, take a look at our rundown of TV renewals and cancellations.

Laura Hurley

Resident of One Chicago, Bachelor Nation, and Cleveland. Has opinions about crossovers, Star Wars, and superheroes. Will not time travel.