Ask any film critic, fan, film school student or nerdy professor and they’ll all agree on at least one thing. Alfred Hitchcock goes down in history, immortalized as the ultimate genius director mastering the art of suspense while pioneering techniques in the psychological thriller genre.
Hitchcock brought a controlled, deliberate vision to the mise-en-scène of all his films, so it’s no surprise Hitchcock would breathe new life to Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel Psycho with the help of friend and screenwriter Joseph Stefano. The novel would become as classic as the film, inspired by real life Plainfield, Wisconsin murderer Edward Theodore “Ed” Gein. Infamous for collecting keepsakes such as bones and skin from his victims, Gein not only influenced Bloch’s main character, Norman Bates, but also others such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Leatherface), Silence of the Lambs (Buffalo Bill), Deranged (Ezra Cobb), and American Horror Story (Bloody Face, Season 2).
Such a classic would have to put immense pressure on the new A&E’s Bates Motel producers and the show’s writers to keep Psycho fans on the edge of their seat, though at the same time not disappointed. Modernizing the 1960 thriller while telling of the youthful days of Norman Bates definitely had me highly skeptical that the execution would be anything short of disappointing. No one alive today could attempt to compare themselves to the irreplaceable direction and the vision of Alfred Hitchcock. There could only be one Hitchcock and the vision behind Bloch’s original novel; some might attempt to rewrite or breathe new life into it, though certainly not as successfully or as innovatively.
Shock value might currently have lost its touch with this generation of TV viewers who have been numbed to gore, blood and violence. Bates Motel certainly does well to utilize minimalism to pace Norman Bates’ (Freddie Highmore) mental unraveling, dissolving his sanity a bit at a time with each passing episode.
At first, I’ll admit that I couldn’t figure out why I felt annoyed every time I watched Highmore. I thought it was the way the London born actor moved his lips when he speaks, overly animating the way he expresses each word, as he impresses us with his best impression of an American accent. But, as time passed, I realized that Highmore was just excellent at playing a young, whiny, needy, codependent and nutty Norman. Highmore isn’t the only one excellent at getting under your skin and annoying the hell out of you, his “mother dearest” (Vera Farmiga) reminds us all why healthy boundaries with children are essential.
Hitchcock’s original Psycho lacked the explanation and backstory that some of us suspense/psychological thriller fanatics craved. I didn’t realize how much I desired to take a peak into the life and the mind of a young Norman Bates, finding out the why behind his insanity until the team of Carlton Cuse, Kerry Ehrin and Anthony Cipriano brought us Bates Motel.
Interestingly enough, regardless of how whacko Norman and his mother are from the very beginning they both seem to attract a slew of suitors from the opposite sex. As a viewer and rabid fan, I can’t help but scratch my head totally puzzled that everyone seems to be so slow to catch on to just how crazy the two are. One romantic interest in mind is Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke), who for some reason is smitten by Norman. Though, the only thing I can’t get out of my head is why the heck did the writers feel the need to write her in as a sickly person with cystic fibrosis who must carry around an oxygen tank to survive each day?
Personally, I feel this to be a little distracting as it reminds me too much of Hazel’s (Shailene Woodley) character in the John Green’s novel The Fault of Our Stars of course adapted into the movie just last year. Some of these new characters are likable, but their purpose puzzles me. Perhaps Emma is meant to juxtapose Norman’s evil nature and accentuate it by exposing her goodness? Another quick observation: Doesn’t Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) look like he’s wearing eyeliner? And his pale skin contrasting his jet black hair likens him to a blood sucking character better suited for The Vampire Diaries.
Emma is likeable enough as is Norman’s half-brother Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot), a product of incest between Norma and her own brother Caleb Calhoun (Kenny Johnson). Regardless of his genetics and criminal career in the town’s marijuana industry, Dylan seems to have more of his marbles than the rest of his family. Oddly, it would make more sense if Norman was the incest child, but lo and behold each episode exposes the eerily uncomfortable snuggling in bed, sexual subtext and incestuous undertones of Norman and his dear mother. After all Norma is only passing on what she learned as a child. As uncomfortable as the audience and fans might be, we can’t wait to tune to the next episode.
Last week exposed a volcano that is erupting inside Norman. The more men that sit at the dinner table, the more he feels robbed of his precious time with his mother. With Norman so unpredictable, I’m not sure what new mommy’s dress we’ll find him in or who’s throat he might try to strangle next. I’ll have to impatiently wait like the rest of the Bates Motel fans, and luckily we’ll get our next dose tonight.