[Editorial] Penny Dreadful’s Eva Green Has Made Possession Scary Again


Have you been seeing the work Eva Green is doing on Showtime's Penny Dreadful? It is stellar. No, make that spellbinding and, dare I say it, scary. I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me first ask the question: Are you even watching Penny Dreadful?

Our own Paul Doro gave its first episode a positive review before its airing in May. I'll admit, I was a bit apprehensive about the show after seeing the series debut, but – sticking to my "2-3 episode rule" – over time, I've become engrossed in this horror series which stitches together a world populated by various classic horror characters like Victor Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Dorian Gray, Dracula and the Frankenstein monster. There are other notable characters on the periphery of this show waiting to enter. They're either mentioned or hinted at, sending viewers like me into a state of excitement thinking about the possibilities in which they'll be used (Amun-Ra is coming!).

In a landscape of televised horror predominantly driven by contemporary stories – Bates MotelHannibalAmerican Horror Story (depending on what era any given season opts to embrace), True Blood, et al. – the 19th century-set Penny Dreadful, created by John Logan, is a breath of fresh air that doesn't skimp on the gore or the twists. The cast is especially inspired (David Warner as Van Helsing!) and the production value is impressive and appropriately gloomy.

Everyone involved is pulling their own weight – even Josh Hartnett (who I suspect is a werewolf and just nailed it in the seventh episode during an exorcism sequence) – but the one holding the dramatic connective tissue together is Eva Green as the medium Vanessa Ives. From the start, we all wondered "who is this woman?" The mystery was laid on thick, after all, she's not a preexisting character drawn from classic literature. Over time, however, we learned of her origins in the series highlight "Closer Than Sisters." In this episode, we come to discover Ives was Mina Murray's childhood friend. We also find out more about Ives' clairvoyance and her introduction to a dark presence that possesses her.

This possession and Ives' constant battle with "the darkness" is proving to be Penny Dreadful's strength. Eva Green is absolutely killing it in any scene in which her body has been invaded by something otherworldly. It began early in the season with a seance sequence with Ives channeling the spirit of Malcolm Murray's dead son (Malcolm, I should mention, being played by Timothy Dalton). In this moment, we saw what Green was capable of – not that we haven't seen her in other great roles. I'm merely talking about the actress tackling material of this sinister nature.

This scene paved the way for some rather explicit and brave work in the aforementioned "Closer Than Sisters." Here, Green is seen seducing Mina's fiancé, later she's stripped of all clothing and ravaged by some invisible evil on the bed. In later episodes, like the aptly-titled "Possession," she goes completely off of the deep end in a performance that is heart-breaking and terrifying.

Green has made possession something to fear again on the screen.

I don't know about you, but I've grown tired of CGI-enhanced possession sequences in which "the possessed" actor or actress is assisted by awful FX. Black CG tears and distended jaws do nothing for me. That's not to say we haven't seen some fine, frightening performances over the years – Jennifer Carpenter in The Exorcism of Emily Rose comes to mind (and I'll throw a mention to Ashley Bell in The Last Exorcism before you kill me in the comment boards and even though I thought it was merely "okay").

But Green is taking it to the next level, in my opinion.

She doesn't need over-the-top CG work. It's simply all in the eyes (and what incredible eyes she has), her sneer and her body language. She has shown us in short time (Penny Dreadful season one is only 8 episodes!) that she has mastered "the possession." That she can make us believe there are other forces at work puppeting her body. I can't imagine it's easy work for her. The things she's required to do as Ives seem exhausting, yet, they've paid off – she has raised the bar for others who take on a possession role. Good luck to you, actors and actresses! Still, kudos to her and Penny Dreadful for making me cringe week after week when Ives suddenly gets that look in her eyes that heralds something awful is coming.

Penny Dreadful wraps up its first season this Sunday. You have plenty of time to binge-watch and catch up if you haven't already done so. Showtime has given the green light to a second season which hopefully means we'll be able to enjoy Green's work just a bit longer.


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