I’m an unabashed horror fan. I love the sleek, scary subtleties of Hitchcock just as much as the all-out gore fests of Eli Roth. I find artistic merit in both, even though the latter is more shocking than the former. One of my favorite horror films is Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs. Anthony Hopkins chews the scenery as cultured cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter, only taking sixteen minutes of screen time to win an Oscar for best actor. Author Thomas Harris debuted Lecter in Red Dragon following with the equally excellent book Silence of the Lambs and some not worth mentioning sequels.
Red Dragon serves as the basis for NBC’s new show Hannibal. The series follows Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), an FBI agent, as he probes the minds of serials killers with his amazing insight and empathy. On a particularly challenging case, Lecter (ex-Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen) is called upon for his expertise. Many people know Lecter as a psycho behind a window of Plexiglas, but in Hannibal, he’s a free man. Will and the rest of the FBI know nothing about his proclivity for human meat; Lecter even owns a very successful psychiatric practice.
In the first episode, an outrageous serial killer who hangs his victims off animal mounts is on the loose. It’s one of those bizarre television crimes that make simultaneously induces shudders and holds attention in a way that’s almost uncomfortable. Dancy looks absolutely haunted as Graham. His ability to see into the mind of a killer is obviously wearing him down and his boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) wants to keep him in his deck because of his gift. Mikkelsen’s Lecter, who enters later in the episode, is, like Anthony Hopkins before him, excellent.
Comparing the two actors isn’t fair though. Hopkins’ Lecter was grotesque and the audience knew they were supposed to be scared of him. Mikkelsen is much more subtle. He has an air of creepiness but never displays it outright. It causes viewers at home to squirm, but never be truly terrified.
A lot has been said about the show’s cinematography, which is a character unto itself. The rich and saturated color palette throws the actors into sharp relief against the scenery. The brooding colors draw us in by making Hannibal’s universe dreamlike. The cinematographer has created a Caravaggio painting on the screen, if Caravaggio painted serial killers instead of religious motifs.
Hannibal is off to a strong smart. It’s an intelligent series that offers the viewer something different from other crime shows on network television. Unlike other shows, it doesn’t rely heavily on impressive forensic buzzwords and so far has broken the ‘murder of the week’ mold by bringing back a major storyline used in episode one. Hannibal is a fun treat for horror fans that want something a bit more complicated, and grounded, than American Horror Story.
Hannibal airs Thursdays at 10 P.M. on NBC.