Saturday, June 01, 2013

‘Bates Motel’ an intriguing prequel series to ‘Psycho’

(Published May 31, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
It’s not the “Psycho” you remember. “Bates Motel” is a disturbing prequel series expounding on horror/slasher icon Norman Bates, reimagining characters immortalized by the Alfred Hitchcock movie.

“Bates Motel” features a much younger Norman years before the grisly events depicted in Robert Bloch’s novel and Hitchcock’s 1960 film adaptation. Played by “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s” Freddie Highmore, Norman here is a bright but strange teen whose emerging dark side is gradually explored.

Developed by writers Carlton Cuse (“Lost”), Kerry Ehrin (“Friday Night Lights”) and Anthony Cipriano (“The Journey of Allen Strange”), the series introduces figures influential to—or unwittingly instrumental in—Norman’s villainous transformation.

Versatile actress Vera Farmiga plays Norma, mother of the disturbed Norman. In the first episode, Norma and Norman Bates move to a seemingly idyllic town in Oregon after her husband’s sudden death. Norma is the new owner of a decades-old inn; she hopes the new venture will help them start over.

Renaming the inn Bates Motel, she and Norman are set on refurbishing its aging rooms and starting operations. But they soon discover that not all the town’s residents are welcoming, and that it has its share of horrifying and sordid secrets.

Former child actor Highmore is incredibly talented, able to provide menacing sides to the initially sweet and wholesome Norman. He pulls off portraying a shy and smothered young man, charmingly disarming one minute and chillingly devoid of humanity the next.

Farmiga is perfect as the hyperactive, overprotective Norma. She played beleaguered moms to terror tots in the thrillers “Joshua” and “Orphan.” But as Norma Bates, Farmiga coruscates with wildness and wit, the character’s overwhelming personality a crucial factor in shaping teen Norman’s future savagery.

The contemporary setting is still accessible to those with a previous familiarity with “Psycho,” but the present-day reset keeps it attractive to viewers who aren’t necessarily into the seminal book or classic movie. There’s also a visual balance; the presence of smartphones and other modern technology is offset by older architecture, car designs, and Norman’s retro-looking clothes.

Characters like Norman’s tough half-brother Dylan (Max Thieriot) and the intrepid classmate Emma (Olivia Cooke) keep things fresh, adding some unpredictable variables to the equation.

“Bates Motel” is off to a promising start, solid and dark enough to appeal to fans of “Dexter” and “Hannibal.” The young psychopath’s morbid evolution unsettles and intrigues, and the inescapable episodic shattering of his fragile mind offers an oddly fascinating sojourn.

(“Bates Motel” airs Wednesdays, 10:50 p.m. on Universal.)

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