Imaginary friends behaving badly on ‘The Whispers’
What happens when imaginary friends aren’t so imaginary? Or innocent? That’s the basic premise of “The Whispers,” a cross between horror, procedural and science fiction. Across Washington D.C., several children are having conversations with the same imaginary friend who they call Drill. Drill’s games have terrible consequences and FBI agent Claire Bennigan (Lily Rabe) is tasked with investigating the mystery.
Surprisingly for a show featuring child actors, “The Whispers” doesn’t overdose on cloying sweetness. If it did, the premise of manipulating childhood desires, energy and innocence to serve a dark purpose wouldn’t be as affective. So far, it’s feeling just the right amount of creepy, as each new kid is brought into Drill’s game.
The story moves between Claire’s case in D.C. and the Sahara Desert where Wes Lawrence (Barry Sloane), on assignment from the Defense Department, is looking into a strange geological formation. If they were trying to make this look like a Transformer that disguises itself as a tree, they nailed it. The transformer tree is not of this world. Drill is more alien than imaginary.
Making the entity guiding kids (who all happen to have parents working in various parts of the federal government) an alien moves the story in a science fiction direction. This isn’t a bad idea so much as a let down. It would have been interesting and a lot riskier to make Drill something more unexpected. But, I’m a fan of a good alien takeover story and using kids and a procedural base, the show is approaching it from a very watchable angle.
While Claire is starting to sense that Drill is more than the product of the children’s imaginations and Wes is trying to figure out why the formation in the desert is giving off energy pulses, a disheveled mystery man (Milo Ventimiglia) is watching Drill’s targets. His identity is revealed at the end of the first episode when all three previously unrelated story threads are connected. It wasn’t hard to guess that Claire and Wes’ stories would eventually intersect but mystery man’s thread was more of a surprise.
Visually, the show creates an ideal picture of suburban life that is too picture-perfect. Mothers with immaculately blow-dried hair attend to their darling children at backyard parties. Claire cheers wildly at her adorable son Henry’s baseball game. It takes a similar approach to introducing Wes. When we meet him, he’s dressed like he’s styled for a desert photo shoot.
But there are also nice touches that add to the sense of dread. There’s a shot of nightlights that turn on one by one down a hallway as Drill makes its presence known in a child’s house. In another, Minx, Wes’ daughter, is framed by a crawl through tube in a playground as she talks to another child about joining the game. Combined with more conventional horror imagery—doors open by themselves and chimes blow in a breeze that is not the wind—the scenes are visually interesting and serve the story.
Overall, “The Whispers” combines various genres in a way that is satisfying and suspenseful. Summer premieres often feel like placeholders for stronger fall series but this one stands on its own.
“The Whispers” is on Mondays at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.