Oil, Fog, and Death: Prime Video’s The Rig Delivers Solid Claustrophobic Horror

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Oil, Fog, and Death: Prime Video’s The Rig Delivers Solid Claustrophobic Horror

Almost two years ago exactly, it was my job to review HBO’s The Head, a thriller in which scientists are isolated at a research station in the Antarctic and must face down a supernatural horror without any help from the outside world. The weather and the isolation contributed to a profound sense of claustrophobia that gave the show its character, and though it was hampered by its reliance on some rickety tropes, the series was enjoyable taken as a whole, particularly for its atmospherics. A few months earlier, I had reviewed The Third Day, a far superior horror product, but one which again relied on isolation due to weather phenomena (in this case, a causeway covered by the tides) as the primary engine of its strangeness. The artistic payoff was far greater, and yet the visceral experience of watching was sometimes quite similar, and similarly enjoyable.

All of which is to say that there’s something strangely cozy about shows where a group of people are stuck together due to nature’s whims, even if they happen to be experiencing a terrifying, life-threatening ordeal that tears them apart at their seams. There is commentary here about the thin threads that tie society together, and about our own apocalyptic fascinations that seem to increase the closer our world may or may not be coming to some kind of brink, but I keep going back to that word, cozy, as the strange adjective that somehow describes the unifying emotion best.

So it is for The Rig, the new Prime Video drama starring a large cast of terrific, mostly Scottish actors including a couple Game of Thrones vets in Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont) and Owen Teale (Aliser Thorne). (One of the few North Americans making the scene is Emily Hampshire as a serious businesswoman, and if you weren’t reading this review, I guarantee that you would have spent at least 10 minutes absolutely agonizing about her until it clicked: Ah yes, Stevie from Schitt’s Creek!) They are the denizens of Kinloch Bravo, an oil rig on the North Sea that unbeknownst to most of them is soon to be decommissioned. Against this sad post-capitalist backdrop, a fog rolls in, and with it all kinds of unpleasantness.

The short version here is that all communications with the mainland, and even the ship that’s meant to rescue them, are cut off, they blow by any chance of escape due to the greed impulse that prevents them from shutting off the oil supply, and finally they are alone, left with some demonic phenomenon that delivers insanity, death, and pretty much everything else you don’t want when you’re stuck on the North Sea with a bunch of cantankerous oil workers.

As far as quality goes, this is middling in the grand scheme, but if you enjoy this particular genre (iso-horror?) there are plenty of worse ways to spend your time. The casting is excellent (superficially, the plethora of Scottish accents alone are worth the price of admission for me), John Strickland (Line of Duty, Big Love) does exactly what he needs to do as director, and there’s real suspense and real agony within the narrative.

The real pleasure, though, comes in the simple drama of being stuck, of the sense of impending doom, and of the desperate effort to survive whatever hell is coming and return to terra firma—the world that used to make sense. Metaphorically, this impulse is familiar to us all in a million different ways, and it’s this very human drive that animates the drama and keeps it watchable even as the plot meanders. Whatever rig you’re on, in whatever North Sea, you will recognize something familiar here.

The Rig is currently streaming on Prime Video.

Shane Ryan is a writer and editor. You can find more of his writing and podcasting at Apocalypse Sports, and follow him on Twitter here .

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