Potential squandered on a show that has a few good camera shots. If you privilege mood over plot, characters, and all else, then this may be the program you were waiting for.
Residue is a British indie television series that was silently released on Netflix last month. The synopsis and starring cast (Game of Thrones recurring actors, wilding Natalia Tena, and sausage wielding Iwan Rheon) were enough to catch my interest, and I wanted to see if this was a hidden gem on the streaming giant.
Unfortunately it isn’t.
The series takes place in an nondescript future city (more on that later), after a terrorist chemical attack leads the entire centre to be quarantined. Photo-journalist Jennifer documents the months after the attack through her lens, but after one of the subjects in her photographs undergoes a mental breakdown, she starts to believe that there’s more to things than meets the eye. Also in the plot is a rouge police officer character that you don’t really care for, and Iwan Rheon’s character, who you really want to care for, but in the end there just isn’t reason to.
It sounds like a good enough concept right? In fact, the concept is probably the second best part of the show; if only the other aspects could get the memo. The direction wavers from decent to sub-par soap opera, while the script mostly just hovers around the same territory. The sound mixing is awful, ranging from long moments of silence (they’re not actually silent, my guess is the sound guy realized how repetitive the score is and thought it was best to just leave it), to moments where you’re begging the “be scared” music to stop.
That being said, the mood is the greatest aspect of the series; the one thing that kept me watching, just to see if everything else would catch up with it. This is mostly done through the camera, managing to pull off some pretty spectacular shots, building tension so masterfully that you almost forget that you don’t really care whether the characters live or not. But this still is not without its faults. Sometimes the colour grading is pushed way too far, trying to give a colourful-yet-hopeless dystopian look. If you want to imagine it, think of Blade Runner turned tumblr gif. Another problem, and this may be a bit petty, is that in their attempt to give the future city vibe, they decided that Chinese culture would have spread to the UK. Not entirely unreasonable, and fairly common in Sci-fi, but the problem is that this literally only appears in the establishing shots, that are clearly just photos of Hong Kong and one bar. Also it doesn’t help that no one speaks, mentions, or looks Chinese.
While again this may be petty, it’s indicative of the larger problem at hand; carelessness. The program desperately wants you to want to know its mysteries, it desperately wants you to think it’s cool, it desperately wants to be a lot of things, but I can’t see any real attempt to make anything of actual substance. While the cinematographer may have his head on straight, the rest of the production feels lazy, even the title sequence feels as though it was made purely because it was required.
The quality of the show was so jarring I actually looked into the production, and after some brief research I think I found the answer. The series was originally filmed as a feature, and after failing to sell it to anyone the creator reedited the film into a short series with a cliff-hanger. I can’t say that I blame them, the people not buying the film that is. It’s clear why Netflix haven’t advertised this show that much, and that’s because overall, it’s just okay. It feels like exactly what it is, two thirds of a dragged out extended edition.
All 3 episodes of Residue are available to stream now on Netflix.