Swords of Insurgency: Episode 1 (2015) – By Kyle Hytonen

My personal take on “going in blind” on a new series always starts off very rocky. I had never heard of Breaking Bad when I grabbed a DVD of season 1, and just wasn’t sure what to make of it ( I soon discovered it is one of the best things TV has produced in years), and I’m still not convinced that even after 6 seasons, Sons of Anarchy was a good show. Any new series is always going to leave an audience in a state of perpetual limbo on whether you should continue the journey past the Pilot. After watching the 1st episode of Swords of Insurgency, the new thriller web series about survival in a harsh post apocalyptic landscape, I’m in that current conundrum.

Set in a time decades in the future, where an apparent apocalypse has wiped out most of the population, the series opens up in an abandoned prison labelled “Ferluvad”. Female inmates are kept in cells and treated viciously by the guards, who seem to be made up mostly of beefy men with an appetite for destruction. The story begins to focus on one inmate in particular, Abigail (Rebecca Hausman). She fights back against her guards, and at one point manages to escape the prison in a daring break-out. Tired, hungry and alone she ventures out into the wilderness and quickly finds out things might have been safer for her on the inside.

The tell tale sign of a great series is fantastic characters and a compelling story; they are at the core of any series bible. The opening frames of Swords of Insurgency left me feeling uneasy from the start. Title cards explain the setup of the series, who the characters are, how they behave and what type of conflict is about to happen between good and evil. A series should be unexpected and it also takes time to develop characters as they filter through the storyline. Instead, we are thrust right into characters that we are supposed to know everything about. As the episode progresses and we meet the evil “warden” of this makeshift prison, Emperor Taneg (Erik Bernard Johnsen), I just didn’t find him or any of the characters very compelling. Yes, this can be the case in a pilot episode, as it takes time in a series to fully flesh out a character, but the characters all seemed paper thin in their motives, so much happened so early on in this episode that there was absolutely no time to introduce any character or their back-story properly. By the time the 18 minute episode was up, I didn’t know anything new about the characters that I didn’t know before.

Swords of Insurgency is slickly made, with some great production value inserted by setting the beginning and shooting in an abandoned prison. There are some very lovely stedicam shots peppered through the first act, in particular during the chase sequence. At certain points, I found the overuse of the stedicam pulled me away from the suspense of the chase, some solid montage close-ups would have certainly amped the tension to mix things up with the fast moving camera action. Fight choreography is stagy, but for a low budget project it was well done (the less said about the use of CG blood the better, however) everyone involved pulled off some great moves and seemed to be having a fun time.

Overall Swords of Insurgency left me feeling lukewarm. I felt there to be too much emphasis on getting to fight and chase sequences in the episode, rather than building on character and story. With strong production values and a talented and dedicated team of actors aboard, I would still be interested to continue this journey, although I hope there are more meat and bones in the story and character department as it progresses.