Psycho is not only renowned as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most notable films, it’s also a significant part of movie history. The classic film doesn’t lend itself to a prequel without giving away one of the biggest spoilers in film history. It suffices to say Bates Motel manages to offer an intriguing suspenseful drama without relying too much on the Hitchcock mythology. In fact, the series offers unexpected twists and turns and a ton of psychoses.
Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) leave after the mysterious death of Norman’s father. They head to picturesque town of White Pine Bay, Oregon where Norma buys a motel in a flight of fancy. This town isn’t as wholesome as it seems. It’s full of murder, secrets, and mysteries. Deaths can’t seem to stop happening around the Bates family. Plus, there’s growing sexual tension… between Norma and Norman?!? To amp up the drama, Norma’s older son Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot) manages to provide help, trouble, and help in getting into trouble. Sherriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) has a bone to pick with the family and secrets of his own.
The series bears a striking resemblance to one of the most famous canceled series in history Twin Peaks. Creator Carlton Cuse even admitted during a panel for the show, "We pretty much ripped off Twin Peaks." The series is memorable for blending the dark and twisted with an offbeat sense of humor and irreverence. Like Twin Peaks, the small Oregon town is chock full of secrets, people with dark desires, and even darker murderous impulses.
Not only does Bates Motel capitalize on the fandom of its source material, it also blends some pretty high caliber acting. Farmiga, sister of American Horror Story actress Taissa Farmiga, is able to transition from flighty dingbat to overbearing lioness in a heartbeat. She’s well-meaning but pathologically narcissistic and neurotic. She lords over Norman enough to mold him into the twisted person we all know he’ll become. Highmore also captures the sense of tension and awkwardness that could snap as he becomes a murderer. He also manages to channel Anthony Perkins by consistently calling Norma "Mother."
Now’s the time to catch up with the series, before it returns in March. Luckily, the first season is available on Netflix. But if you’d like a primer for the series read on for a recap of Season 1 but beware of spoilers.
Norma buys the new Bates motel as a foreclosure. Former owner Keith Summers shows up and rapes her. Norma kills him and she and Norman try to cover up the crime. In the process of trying to hide the body, they stumble on Keith’s side business of human trafficking. He used the hotel as a front to traffic in sex slaves. This causes a ton of trouble for the Bates clan as his former business associates pester the family, with the sheriff convinced Norma did away with Summers. Norma gets some help from her new boyfriend, Sheriff Zack Shelby (Mike Vogel), but he turns out to have one of the sex slaves hidden in his basement.
The economy of White Pine Bay is falsely inflated because of a huge pot field hidden in the forest. Dylan gets drafted into the drug trade and rises the ranks. But he still hasn’t met the mysterious leader of the town’s side business. He wants to make enough money to take Norman away from Norma’s overbearing ways. He clashes with the family but knows that Norma is a bad influence. Meanwhile, Sheriff Romero is definitely tied to illegal dealings.
Norman makes fast friends with rich girl Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz) and outcast Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke). At first, both girls are interested in Norman. But when Norman gets de-virginized by Bradley he gets a little obsessed with her despite her creepy boyfriend. Norman starts to get haunted by visions of his mother when she’s not there. He also exhibits some creepy behavior, like keeping a souvenir of the incident with Keith. Norma confesses to Dylan that Norman is responsible for his father’s death. The season ends with Norman fleeing from a flirtatious teacher’s house, seemingly scared by the sexual tension, leaving her bleeding body on the floor of her bedroom.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.