UK TV review: Residue (Season 1)
James R | On 06, Apr 2015
What do you think of when you hear the word “residue”? The stuff at the bottom of a glass? That mouldy patch on your ceiling? You certainly don’t think of a sci-fi series starring people from Game of Thrones. Well, not until now.
Residue slid on to Netflix this weekend without the fanfare or advertising we’ve grown to expect from higher profile series, but behind its relatively nondescript title lies an intriguing little sci-fi that has the binge-watching hook of a show with 10 times its budget.
The story is set in a nameless city, where photo-journalist Jennifer (Natalia Tena) is investigating a mysterious explosion that occurred one New Year’s Eve. We start with the night in question; an unexpected shock that erupts mid-phone call. That, combined with some stylish opening credits, immediately gives you an idea of the ambition behind Residue. Another clue: the project was first released on a limited basis as a film in the UK, before being smartly sold directly to Netflix, with additional scenes to make up three separate episodes.
The world-building is strong enough to justify the fleshing out, immediately capturing the gloomy, blue sheen of a shut-down city with a gaping hole at its heart. That’s The Quarantine Zone, manned by the military and kept out of the general public’s reach. It falls to Jennifer’s boyfriend, advisor Jonas Flack (Tena’s Thrones co-star Iwan Rheon), to explain to the capital’s population why they’re not allowed in there – and what on earth caused the explosion in the first place.
John Harrison’s script taps into the usual conspiracy vibe, while the cast give an engaging edge to proceedings; after likeable supporting roles in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, Tena is immensely watchable as the curious journo, while the always-excellent Rheon earns our sympathy as Jonas, who slowly realises that he’s being kept in the dark about something too.
Behind the camera, though, lies the show’s secret weapon: Alex Garcia Lopez. The director, who has nailed sinister telly in the past with Channel 4’s Utopia, ramps up the tension, thanks to a string of carefully choreographed and eerily shot set pieces: one moment in a nightclub bathroom is horrifyingly blunt, while the judicious use of a bus stop leaves you reeling.
As Jennifer finds out more – and a string of violent deaths appear – the tapestry of characters expands to include the usual array of a weary cop (Levis Mathis, whose daughter is lost to the incident) and sinister government suits, but it’s the mystery’s dangerous edge that really gets under your skin. Our photographer soon notices phantoms cropping up in her pictures’ frames, something that Lopez brings to freakish life through haunting CGI: dark blotches on the wall seem to connect everything, as particles of black float through the air to form shadowy figures. The atmosphere drips with skin-crawling suspense, as the locations bring a tangible sense of realism (and peril) to the weirdness – it’s a treat to discover that such evocative interiors and exteriors were all filmed in Leeds.
That same ability to think big, though, will also frustrate viewers: these three outings effectively form a trailer for a much larger series; a two-hour pilot that promises more chills to come. It is perhaps unsurprising to learn that Netflix has the exclusive option on a further season of 10 episodes, which would finish the story. Although the prospect of watching something incomplete could deter some, we currently live in an age where projects are designed for long-form storytelling, rather than concise mini-series – and there are many more mystery shows out there that span 20 odd chapters while still teasing some far-off resolution. It’s satisfying to see such an attitude driving independent, British talent to create a promising piece of sci-fi. Season 1 of Residue will leave you wanting more, but until then, you’ll never look at that mouldy patch in your ceiling in the same way again.
Residue is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.