“I don’t know what’s scarier. That you’re infected or not.” That’s the sound of a thousand sci-fi cliches hitting our screens once again in Origin, YouTube Premium’s new series. But cliches done well can still shine, and Origin is as glossy as they come – and that’s just the set alone, its curving corridors full of dark portent, shadowy suspense and gloomy gore.
The corridors belong to Origin, the titular spaceship that’s ferrying a crew of passengers to a new life. That life awaits them on Thea, a far-off planet that’s intended to be a new human colony. Presuming, of course, that the ship ever gets there. Because, yes, on the way through the stars to reach their destination, things go awry, and we join them as they wake up in the middle of space, lost, damaged and abandoned.
What caused them to be knocked out of cryosleep? The answer swerves Passenger-style revelations for a more straight-forward echo of Alien or The Thing, and it’s all the better for it: within a few episodes, we’ve not only met the crew, but also encountered the strange creature that may or may not be possessing one or more of them – a parasitic gribbly that threatens to take down the whole lot of them.
What does it want? Where does it come from? How do they kill it? All of those are questions yet to be answered by the halfway mark of this 10-episode thriller, but that’s mainly because there’s one other mystery they need to solve first: where (or who) is it?
The choices are nicely varied, from Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton’s enjoyably loathsome Logan to Natalia Tena’s likeably tough bodyguard, Lana. In between them are former Yakuza Shun (Sen Mitsuji), the gentle Venisha (Nina Wadia), quiet Eric (Johannes Haukur Johanneson) and smart Dr. Henri Gasana (Fraser James). They’re each introduced, Orange Is the New Black-style, with flashbacks doled out roughly one person per episode, and the editing sharply manages to balance the playful withholding of information in the present with the importance of emotional backstories from their pasts.
The recruitment of Dr. Henri and the departure of Lana are intriguing enough, but it’s antisocial hacker Lee (Adelayo Adedayo) who really impresses, both as a showcase for Adedayo’s acting and as a sign of the series’ overall potential: Episode 5 dovetails off into her own motivations, which are wrapped up in a gorgeous standalone story about AI, romance, humans and trust. And then, it’s back to the modern day to see someone get sliced up with a laser.
Directors Paul WS Anderson (Event Horizon), Mark Brozel (Humans) and Ashley Way (Doctor Who) are all veterans of small-screen sci-fi, and they capture events with a welcome sheen that incorporates everything from the scale of Doctor Who to the nastiness of Event Horizon; maimed bodies and grisly wounds begin to fly thick and fast the further into the box set you get, with each fresh wince countered by the swish of the camera floating through the ever-spinning circular ship.
Menacing corridors, 2001-like exteriors and an unknown mole in our ensemble’s midst? Origin is a bundle of familiar tropes and doesn’t show much sign of deviating from the rules. But like the Jake Gyllenhaal flick Life, there’s a lot to be said for a B-movie horror that simply gets on with the business of being creepy. Creator Mika Watkins doesn’t disappoint, tapping into interesting ideas about humans’ wish to start over with a clean slate, even as we inevitably want to unmask the secrets of others, but never losing sight of the disturbing mission at hand. Fortunately, Origin has a big enough budget to realise that mission, serving up a solid slice of well-acted genre telly that brings a legitimacy to YouTube Premium and its fledgling library of original titles. It may not be anything new, but that doesn’t stop it from being gripping. If this is the kind of slickly produced fare YouTube is looking to create, Origin could be the start of something impressive.
Origin is available exclusively on YouTube Premium, as part of an £11.99 monthly subscription – including YouTube Premium Originals and YouTube Music, as well as the rest of YouTube advert-free.
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