Review by C.J. Bunce
With all the Netflix series being rolled out this year, October Faction might get overlooked. It’s the latest monster series based on a comic book and it arrived on Netflix this past weekend. Based on Steve Niles and Damien Worm’s graphic novel/comics of the same name, both the TV series (created by Sleepy Hollow and Stargate’s Damian Kindler) and the comics are a darker spin on The Addams Family–the comics even darker than the TV series, which is closer in tone to Riverdale, Charmed, and Stranger Things than, say, Grimm or Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Unfortunately it’s not as well-constructed or visualized as any of those series, but it may be worth the time for fans of horror or stories of students with super powers. It’s the super powers angle that demonstrates how closely linked superhero series are with supernatural and horror stories in the 21st century–Swap out a few words, monsters for malevolent aliens and witches and warlocks for superheroes and you’ll find October Faction has the same story beats as, say The Umbrella Academy or The Boys. October Faction has an easier to digest, more accessible story than both of those series although the production values lack a certain tightness in editing and cinematography style. It also could use a soundtrack that better matches the charging, creepy pitches found in Netflix’s three trailers for the series.
This is a story about a husband and wife and their twin 17-year-olds, and how the twins handle learning their parents belong to an age-old network of monster hunters. Tamara Taylor (Bones, Altered Carbon, Lost, Serenity) is really in the driver’s seat as Deloris, the mom who always seems to have the right firearm close by, joined by husband Fred, played by J.C. MacKenzie, a character actor TV audiences have seen in dozens of police procedural series and movies, including The Irishman, The Departed, The Shield, and Hemlock Grove, as a father who is looking forward to a rest from the monster work. If you agree MacKenzie is a ringer for a younger Matthew Modine, you might convince yourself October Faction is a prequel to Stranger Things (he also evokes Ed Begley, Jr.). MacKenzie’s casting is an odd choice, like starring old school Fred MacMurray or Robert Young as a modern, mouthy murderer of monsters. But he might grow on you. The kids are more interesting: Newcomers Aurora Burghart plays Viv, an angsty teen who sketches morbid miscellany and can’t understand why she sees things before they happen, and Gabriel Darku is Geoff, her gay brother who is lost leaving behind his old friends for the family’s most recent relocation–and who also thinks he sees the deceased dead.
The level of horror and gore is about that of Shaun of the Dead, enough to establish genre while not becoming a full-on slasher show. At first this appears to be another story of the Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers variety–black and white good and bad guys and monsters that are evil because ugly, unfamiliar, and different things are always evil. Fortunately the story catches up in time and the theme becomes that of fellow monster series Grimm, that not all monsters are bad, and sometimes humans are the worst threat of all.
The series will be a plus for fans of Silver Bullet, Anne of Green Gables, Wynonna Earp, and Reign actor Megan Follows stepping in both behind the camera and in front of it, as head of Presidio–the story’s covert anti-monster agency. The episodes she directs are, indeed, the best of the series.
Fans of the teenage experience and that timeless tale of teens being terrible to each other, found in other dark-toned series like Riverdale, Veronica Mars, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will find the plight of the twins in their new school familiar. Anwen O’Driscoll (Emerald Code) is the obsessive, clingy, nerdy girl trying to befriend Viv and Sara Waisglass (Killjoys) the snobbish bully trying to ruin her life. October Faction also has that surprising, powered, badass adult stepping in to stir up the lives of the protagonists (as found in Marvel’s Jessica Jones and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) played by Maxim Roy (Defying Gravity, Shadowhunters).
Fans of genre TV, especially Canada-based series will instantly recognize Stephen McHattie (Orphan Black, Haven, Fringe, The 4400, Lexx, Star Trek Enterprise/Deep Space Nine, The X-Files, Adam-12), who plays Fred’s father. And Nicola Correia-Damude (The Strain, Coroner) has a standout role as the latest of new breed of tough, female law enforcement officers like we’ve seen in Altered Carbon, Sleepy Hollow, Swamp Thing, and Wu Assassins as the quick on her feet local sheriff.
In an update from the comics series, the part machine, part human cyborg named Dante, played by Calvin Desautels (Orphan Black, 12 Monkeys) takes on a critical role in the story (a new electronic-eyed cyborg who looks similar to John Williams’ borg in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker).
If you can get past the at times clunky presentation, you may find some good character development and action. And as with Stranger Things, Heroes, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, look forward to a revisit to a familiar favorite horror genre location–the local carnival. Most of the special effects could have used some more effort, but some of the makeups work, and it’s the humans that are really the focus of the series so the believability of the monsters is not that critical to enjoying the show.
All ten episodes of the first season of October Faction are streaming now, only on Netflix. And don’t forget to check out the original graphic novels here at Amazon.