Detective Manticore (James Manzo) tracks a man (Brad Steuernagel) in an alley, eventually revealing himself from the shadows. Unfortunately for Manticore, the man he’s tracking is actually a murderous demon. Fortunately, however, Manticore is also not what he seems; not just a normal detective, but a wizard too.
Nick Fiore’s Strange! Episode One definitely embraces an over-the-top aesthetic. The acting can be scenery chewing at its most overwrought, and even the opening gets in on the action, with ominous narration set to a synth score that seems to have escaped an ’80s horror or sci-fi flick and latched itself here. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t charming.
It is a tricky balance to strike, as the commitment to playing it serious while simultaneously delivering a not-so-discreet performance can indeed lend itself to some hilarity, and you do get the feeling that much is being played for laughs, under the idea that being serious while delivering something ridiculous is funnier than just being silly for silly’s sake. And it can, and often does, work, though maybe not with as solid a hit-to-miss ratio as you could hope.
There are other positives, however. The composition, for example, shows an interest in delivering more than just standard visual set-ups. From camera moves to other fun angles, Strange! mixes things up, keeping the visuals strong. The digital effects aren’t always smoothly integrated, but the practical effects and make-up do work to pick up the slack. Again, it’s a game of balances and this gets it mostly right, most of the time.
Speaking to its comic nature, however, I think for something played so over-the-top in one direction, it almost isn’t absurdist enough in the other. Sure, the idea of a “Clap Castle School of Wizard Detectivery,” or whatever it’s called, is funny, but I feel like there’s an opportunity to go even nuttier that’s being missed. The result can be a mishmash of sorts, funny in some ways, confusing tonally in others.
In the end, though, it’ll be interesting to see where Strange! goes next, and how the aesthetic and tone improves or evolves along the way. The opening taste is good enough that I’d want to explore it further, as there is a definite charm to the project. With a properly developed set of characters, mythos and storylines, this could be something along the aesthetic and humor of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and garner a cult following along the way.
But that’s talking potential, and it’s not there yet; this could just easily fall off in the other direction, become a not-so-entertaining parody of itself and deliver little of interest. Then again, if the filmmakers truly committed to a silly, over-the-top take of hilarity-on-purpose, which they hint at here and there, that could work too. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what comes next.
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