The Whispers Review: A Captivating Mystery That Will Hopefully Keep Viewers …

31 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Whispers’ is child’s play turned deadly.

More than alright: In the case of some of the best suspense stories, children are absolutely essential. As fun chillers ranging from “Village of the Damned” to “Children of the Corn” to “The Omen II” have demonstrated, children can do the damnedest things.Although “The Whispers” was developed by writer Soo Hugh, ABC is eager to cite Steven Spielberg’s involvement, and no wonder: This summer series is a veritable mashup of the director’s filmography — a pinch of “E.T.” here, a dollop of the Spielberg-produced “Poltergeist” there, and a soupcon of what might be called “Invisible Encounters of the Kid Kind.” None of that takes away from the modest enjoyableness of the show, which drips clues over the first three episodes, as kids interact with an “imaginary friend” only they can see.In the years since Lost staked claims in water cooler conversations, ABC has tried several times to recapture that mystery-laden throne, mostly to no avail.

That’s one of the lessons of “The Whispers,” an ABC suspense series whose executive producers include someone who often gives lots of credit to young characters, Steven Spielberg. ET/PT) features family drama, geopolitical peril and paranormal mystery, all woven together via eerie conversations children are having with their invisible friend, Drill. Now from executive producer Steven Spielberg comes ABC’s “The Whispers,” in which innocent-looking tots follow the orders of an imaginary pal and unleash mayhem on their loved ones — and maybe even bring about the destruction of the human race.

Shorthand description? “A supernatural Homeland,” says Barry Sloane, who plays Wes Lawrence, a Defense Department official investigating geological mystery in the Sahara Desert as his daughter, Minx (Kylie Rogers), is communicating with Drill. Psst, parents: If your adorable tyke says his or her invisible friend has such an ominous sounding name as Drill, take it as a warning to lock up the sharp objects and stay out of the tree house. And although I have no idea how long the show can possibly sustain its central storyline, the first few episodes sufficiently shoved me to the edge of my seat.

Monday, the show doesn’t choose just any locale to spin its tale: The kids in question reside in Washington, D.C., so their alleged new buddy knows where to strike if gaining power and influence is the aim. The exploration of both events, which may be connected, is complicated by the married Wes’s past affair with FBI child specialist Claire Bennigan (Lily Rabe), a former subordinate.

As the youngsters allegedly are guided into increasingly alarming actions by their unseen pal, known as Drill, an FBI agent (played by “American Horror Story” veteran Lily Rabe) who specializes in child behavior is drawn in. Claire, dealing with the recent crash death of her Air Force pilot husband, investigates the children’s communications with Drill, unaware that her son, Henry (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), is among those in contact. “She is the right woman for the job, whether it’s personal or not, because it involves children.

She credits Steven Spielberg, an executive producer, for having “this incredible magic touch in finding the most amazing kids” for the children’s roles. “These characters have to deal with complicated things emotionally, and we get to play all that in the midst of great tension with conspiracy, government and the mystery,” he says. In addition, her dalliance with a Defense Dept. operative, Wes (Barry Sloane, not far from his “Revenge” mode), has complicated both of their lives. Young Harper Weil (Abby Ryder Fortson, adorable and a fine young actor to boot) is playing a game with her imaginary friend, Drill, who we perceive as a gust of wind or a flicker of lights. On the other side of things is the Defense Department’s Wes Lawrence (Barry Sloane), a “friend” of Drew’s whose illicit relationship with Claire in the past has strained all bonds, particularly those between Claire and Wes’ wife Lena (Kristen Connolly). (It doesn’t help that Drill is also talking to the Lawrence daughter Harper (Kylie Rogers).) Wes’ work takes him across the planet to the desert, where some crazy shit is happening that may or may not be linked to Drill. Producers reworked the original pilot to disguise mystery elements, although they will reveal some answers — such as Drill’s identity — early in the season.

As noted, there are a lot of familiar elements here: Kids interacting with a slightly malevolent presence, a strange visitor that the parents can’t see, and the always-reliable device of flickering lights and appliances. Despite the otherworldly elements, Estrin says viewers can relate to a real-world concern regarding raising kids. “We’re taking that to the extreme as to who or what is going to be the influence on our children if we do not pay better attention.” But know that while there is some stereotypically hyper-dramatic scene-chewing going on, The Whispers is a great taste of popcorn TV, with a driving plot that molds itself nicely around its mostly solid cast. She deems that “one of the greatest joys I had doing this show.” “I think all children are pretty extraordinary, and getting to work with children is always so much fun, because it’s exactly what you’re chasing all the time in a scene partner … which is someone who just wants to play and who is completely, wholly present. The adults, meanwhile, are serviceable for the purposes of the plot, but could use a little work character-wise, starting with Rabe, who, in terms of the way she delivers lines seems to have taken the title a bit too much to heart.

Ventimiglia has been doing some fascinating work the last few years (in addition to racking up a body count on “Gotham,” he starred in and produced the recent crime thriller “Tell” and also produces Crackle’s addictive conspiracy show “Chosen”), and his character’s behavior is sure to spark some fun conversations among viewers. It’s always advisable to keep one foot on the floor with such programs — two other Spielberg-produced series, CBS’ “Extant” and “Under the Dome,” offer reminders of that wisdom — but “The Whispers” has a polished feel, enough twists, and moves just well enough to steadily build on its central mystery. And although this series feels like a strange amalgamation of Spielberg’s genre hits, it’s best not to use that as a reason to put The Whispers on a pedestal, as we all know that his outskirts-involvement didn’t turn Under the Dome or Extant into the most critically lauded dramas.

Over the next three episodes, Drill’s reach expands — as does the cast, which cleverly stretches to include ET’s Dee Wallace, who knows a thing or two about children involved with otherworldly beings. It still looks like an ABC drama, of course, but there are enough off-kilter camera angles that the ominousness is present without getting overwhelming. In the end, I’m far more interested in all of the otherworldly aspects of Drill and its motives than I am in the intra-personal relationships of these characters, but that’s just how I roll. The larger problem, however, is endemic to many such sprawling conspiracy series: At a certain point, you begin to wonder whether Drill isn’t going the long way around with a plan that seems unnecessarily complicated given the powers he seems to possess.

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