“What you don’t know can still kill you,” remarks one character to another in The Rig, a new supernatural thriller from Amazon Prime Video. The camera pans across his shoulder, fixing its gaze on the window behind him and offering a brief glimpse of the swirling cloud of ash and smoke and rain that surrounds Kinloch Bravo oil rig.
150 miles off the coast of Scotland, Kinloch Bravo is mining for North Sea oil. It’s the oldest rig stationed in those oilfields – not quite falling apart, but it’s certainly seen better days, closer to the end of its usefulness than the beginning – and the workers are starting to get a little on edge. Days have turned into weeks that turned into months, and they’re overdue a shift change and a boat back to the mainland; nerves are beginning to fray and tension is starting to build. When their already-delayed transport is postponed again because of thick fog, they become even more restless – and then the tremors start. There’s something in the fog.
At its heart, The Rig is about fear of the unknown. Or, maybe more accurately, the unknowable: there’s something beyond the imagination surrounding Kinloch Bravo, some force the workers can barely conceive of. An oil rig turns out to be the perfect setting for this kind of almost Lovecraftian thriller – already isolated as it is, already at the mercy of the natural elements, that underlying paranoia and claustrophobia is heightened when they’re cut off from the wider world by the fog and what’s inside it. They’ve drilled deep into the Earth in search of oil, and now they’ve found – and unleashed – something long dormant.
It is perhaps, at first glance, a little familiar. There’s a base under siege, a high concept monster, infighting amongst a crew who’ll have to put their differences aside to survive. You can collapse it down to its influences and predecessors – if Doctor Who is your frame of reference of choice, as it has been for a number of critics, The Rig is Praxeus by way of 42, with elements of Under the Lake and The Waters of Mars for good measure – but at a certain point that kind of comparison is more reductive than it is helpful, essentially just recognising the hallmarks of a shared genre. What’s more important – and more impressive – is what The Rig does well and does distinctly on its own terms.
What’s immediately striking about The Rig is how well-directed it is, as evocative in its horror stylings as it is claustrophobic in moments of tension. It’s an impressive effort from Line of Duty’s John Strickland, who helms the first three episodes; there’s a real sense of scale to The Rig, from the vastness of the ocean to the complexity of the drilling station itself, and the power of outside forces both natural and unnatural stood at on their doorstep. Writer David Macpherson, meanwhile, refers back to myth and legend often (“Every major religion has its own flood story. Maybe we’re due one”), again emphasising that scale and grandeur, those unknowable forces stirring in the deep tracing back to something impossibly old.
Another testament to the scale of The Rig – albeit in a different sense – is its ensemble cast, which features more or less every acclaimed Scottish actor working. Macpherson is quick to sketch out the dynamic between the characters, what unites them and what divides them, which the cast then run with: impressively for a cast of its size (around 14 major speaking parts in the first episode alone), there’s never a danger of anyone being crowded out particularly or feeling short-changed by the series. Iain Glen, Martin Compston, and Mark Bonnar are welcome presences, as always, and Molly Vevers is a standout amongst the younger cast – around them, the group dynamic is strong, effectively tailored to the demands of the show.
Tying it all together is the production design – for obvious reasons, Kinloch Bravo isn’t filmed on a real oil rig but a recreation of one, but it’s a striking double all the same, lending The Rig a weighty, tactile feel. There’s a commitment, too, to really showing off the rig with a series of complex set pieces – as is always the way, the essential machinery in need of repairs is hugely difficult and dangerous to access – which goes a long way towards grounding the show in the specific textures of this world. There’s the occasional fuzzy background, yes, but they’re rarely more than a minor distraction at most – the finished piece is a testament to the show’s production design and VFX teams.
Ultimately, The Rig is a compellingly made thriller, brought to life by a talented cast, as memorable in its bigger moments as its smaller ones. (Alongside the sheer scale of The Rig, Macpherson’s script finds time for some pleasingly gruesome little moments of body horror throughout.) The series marks a strong start to the year for Amazon Prime – a benchmark the streaming platform’s upcoming 2023 shows will have to live up to.
The Rig arrives on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 6 January, with all six episodes available to stream at once as part of a boxset. I’ve seen the first three episodes before writing this review.
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