The first episode of ten episode Gracepoint miniseries opens with a lazy pan over a sleepy town of the same name. With a quick cut, we see a boy standing on the edge of a cliff. Everything is quiet – too quiet. The slow, rhythmic music combines the ambient sounds of the town to give us an ominous first impression.
The scene quickly changes to the morning routine of a seemingly normal family. A grandma makes breakfast as a father, Mark Solano (Michal Peña), gets ready for work. His teenage daughter, Chloe (Madalyn Horcher), wakes up snooty, and his wife, Beth (Virginia Kull), casually remarks on how their son forgot to pick up his lunch for school. Life is normal for the Solano’s.
The pilot features stunning cinematography, amazing direction from James Strong and a solid script from Chris Chibnall. Each establishing shot Strong sets up is calm and peaceful, almost as if it were a breath before the more upsetting moments.
A fantastic shot features Beth running down the road after she hears the news that the police have found a body on the beach. Strong makes Beth’s frantic and desperate run all the more heartbreaking by his choice to remove all diegetic sound; the viewer is left with nothing but plodding, mournful music. Strong’s choice to also slow down the video to a crawl creates a distinct impact.
Another powerful moment comes when Detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn) and Beth stand together on the beach where Beth’s son was found dead. Before two even start to talk, Strong first shot reveals a beautiful beach landscape. It is almost as if Strong is trying to say that sometimes people need to take in the beauty around them before they do anything else.
Strong uses slow motion and non-diegetic sound to enforce major plot developments and emotion. However, for the majority of the episode, the score is not the main aural cue. Instead, Strong depends on the natural sounds of the scene to convey meaning.
When Miller and Detective Carver (David Tennant) break the news to the Solano family about their son, the audience is made painfully aware of the family’s suffering. The only sounds the viewer can focus on were the cries from the Solano family. There is no music to underscore the tone or distract the audience. There is only cold, hard truth that drives home the power of the scene.
Gunn’s superb acting shines through the grim plot. Miller’s empathy for the Solano family during their trying time is genuinely heartfelt and perfectly clashes with Carver’s pragmatic navigation of the Solano case. Michael Peña is equally amazing in this episode. After learning about the death of his boy, he asks to look at his son’s body. Heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to cover it. His delivery is so raw, emotional and indescribably “real” that it sent shivers down my spine.
The episode ends on a strong note from David Tennant. In the final scene, he expertly delivers a haunting monologue and never breaks eye contact with the camera. It becomes clear that the police will stop at nothing to solve this case.
The emotionally taxing episode is driven by two feuding ideas: Gracepoint‘s bright, light and pleasant setting versus the grim reality of murder. Almost every shot has plenty of cheery sets, reinforcing how out of place a murder in a quiet town like Gracepoint feels. The tension simmering under the clean-cut façades of the townfolk will certainly come to head sooner rather than later.
Gracepoint feels reminiscent of Twin Peaks. It lacks the surrealism of that show but it features the same concept: a small shoreline town community rocked with the news of the death of a young child. This formula is not new; similar plots can be found in The Killing and in the Fargo miniseries. Yet this crowded space, Gracepoint still finds its own charm.
Overall, Gracepoint‘s first episode is well put together and features perfect pacing, not a moment feeling odd or out-of-place. It’s also attention-grabbing and stunning to watch. Cinematographer John Grillo creates moving art with every scene. The stunning visuals, clever use of slow-motion and an intelligent mixture of diegetic and non-diegetic sound all conspired to make me forget that at its core, Gracepoint is a cop show. And Gracepoint is self-aware of its genre, Chibnall seemingly wants viewers to understand that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have depth.
Gracepoint still lives in the shadows of its British counterpart, Broadchurch. It will hopefully break away from its origins at some point in order to develop its own plot and style. Until then, its tight writing and breathtaking camerawork are sure to captivate any viewer.