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Syfy’s Day of the Dead Series Premiere Review: “The Thing in the Hole”

Day of the Dead premieres on Syfy on Friday, Oct. 15. Below is a spoiler-free review.

Syfy’s Day of the Dead series is ostensibly based on George A. Romero’s 1985 film of the same name, but all that the two works seem to have in common is the zombie tropes that Romero pioneered: the dead are walking and the humans they’re trying to eat are just as monstrous. It’s a shallow attempt to bring in audiences with name recognition, and the premiere leaves little reason to keep watching.

The series starts with a cold open so abrupt it feels like it was cut from a later episode and slapped in front at the urging of a network executive terrified viewers would stop watching if they didn’t see blood and guts within the first seconds of turning on a zombie show. It’s packed with shots of the shambling zombies chowing on the residents of the fictional town of Mawinhaken, Pennsylvania and shallow attempts at humor and shock value like mayor Paula Bowman (Miranda Frigon) snarling “How’s the Second Amendment taste, motherf**kers?” as she fires a pair of revolvers and her son Luke (Daniel Doheny) quipping “Did you know we had this many dead people in town?” Some of the names are tributes to those in Romero’s film, but that’s as far as the character similarities go.

The cold open also makes multiple attempts at emotional beats that lack any punch without the context to come once the opening credits roll and the show makes the inevitable transition to “earlier” and actually introduces the cast. Day of the Dead does seem to hew to Romero’s supernatural version of undeath rather than more modern, virus-based versions. The troubles start in Mawinhaken after Sarah Blackwood (Morgan Holmstrom) finds a masked corpse while working on a fracking crew and her ruthless boss tries to cover it up to avoid any work stoppage or controversy.

While Romero gave Day of the Dead a distinctive visual style by shooting in Florida wetlands and claustrophobic underground facilities, the Syfy show is filmed in Vancouver like so many other low-budget genre productions. The dull color palette makes it feel especially bland, and the characters feel just as flat.

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“The Thing in the Hole” provides a sort of slice of life of Mawinhaken and its residents, who mostly seem to deserve what’s coming to them. Paula is obsessed with winning her bid for reelection, nagging her spoiled bully of a son and sleazy husband Trey (Christopher Russell) not to do anything to tarnish her image. McDermott (Mike Dopud) is a good cop but a bad father to Cam (Keenan Tracey), who just wants to earn enough money to get out of a dead-end town where the quest for more jobs brought in a fracking operation causing earthquakes and perhaps the zombie apocalypse. But Cam still finds time to flirt with sassy parolee Lauren Howell (Natalie Malaika), who loves her work as an assistant mortician despite her abusive creep of a boss — at least until the job gets a little too lively.

The jump scares are predictable and the serious lines and jokes fall flat.

Day of the Dead’s premiere tries to find the right mix of melodrama, humor, sex and gore that makes for good horror, but it fails on almost all counts. The jump scares are predictable and the serious lines and jokes fall flat thanks to almost universally wooden delivery by the unimpressive cast. The zombie makeup does look great and there is a sort of schlocky joy to some of the scenes, like a lawnmower chase through the town’s cemetery that results in gouts of blood splattering across the tombstones and a funeral that goes very wrong. Unfortunately, those sequences aren’t enough to breathe life into the otherwise plodding and predictable narrative.

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