The latest adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic alien invasion saga, War Of The Worlds doesn’t focus so much on the extraterrestrial beings intent on destroying the human race in one fell swoop as it does on how a small group of survivors scattered around France and England get through the first 10 days after the attack. Which is what makes the 8-episode series now airing on EPIX so alarming, especially when watching from the confines of home in self-isolation during a very real global pandemic.
There’s something about Steven Spielberg’s loud, stressful 2005 remake of this oft-told story that’s simultaneously scary and escapist. The sprinting. The screaming. The destruction. Tom Cruise’s larger-than-life panic. Dakota Fanning staring saucer-eyed at everything.
Sure, there’s running and gunfire, blood and gooey alien bits in creator Howard Overman’s 2020 version, but the fragility of society takes center stage. When the aggressors from outer space descend, their calculated scheme takes out electricity, water, phone service. Dormant cars litter the streets haphazardly with their passengers slumped over inside or sprawled out on the street mid-flee. This makes it extra hard for bookish neuroscientist Bill Ward (Gabriel Byrne) and his estranged wife Helen (Elizabeth McGovern) to move about and contact loved ones. Same goes for Natasha Little’s mild-mannered mom trying to keep her teenage son (Ty Tennant) and blind daughter (Daisy Edgar-Jones) calm and alive long enough to reunite with the family patriarch (Stephen Campbell Moore).
Deeper mysteries about the aliens’ origin, purpose and connection to Edgar-Jones’ character, in particular, simmer without ever overwhelming the main narrative. Human connection and the ways we love and hurt each other, inflict and endure trauma, and our will to live are all on display here. If the current news cycle has you on edge, this may not be the best time to watch this (although based on the popularity of movies like Outbreak and Contagion, there seems to be an appetite for apocalyptic dramas). But for those looking for a timely distraction, here are the four most terrifying moments in War Of The Worlds (SPOILERS ahead):
1) The eerily still streets
Without the noise pollution of people buzzing and traffic bumping, the streets remain lifeless – literally. Dead bodies dot almost every surface. But the sun shines, the birds chirp and all the sounds of nature normally drowned out by our needs and wants blossom. Thinking of our bustling cities hushed by curfews and mandatory business closures, it’s hard not to be unnerved as the characters traipse through an empty London.
2) Stealing babies
As if kidnapping an abandoned hospital ward’s collection of orphaned infants wasn’t creepy enough, the aliens send robotic-looking, canine-like creatures to rip the fetuses from pregnant women’s bellies. What do they want with the unborn? It’s unclear, but it’s serious enough to leave a woman dead, floating in a body of water with a gaping hole in her womb.
3) Spending the apocalypse with your rapist
Imagine coming face-to-face with your rapist and realizing you can’t really escape, because there is nowhere to run to in the middle of an alien invasion. And then imagine he’s your brother. And the father of your teenage son. And an automatic weapon-toting police officer. It’s enough to make you appreciate your own circumstances.
4) Government wipeout
Every alien invasion or natural disaster movie or series always finds government officials sequestering in a bunker to avoid decimation. Regardless of how you feel about the haves having a place to escape to while the have-nots suffer, trying times call for effective leadership and that can’t exist if the major players die. We don’t get to know England’s leaders on an intimate level before the dog robots annihilate the entire shelter because they opened the doors. We could make a who let the dogs in joke, but …..
EPIX airs new episodes of War Of The Worlds Sundays at 9pm ET.