Horizons (Betwixt Productions, 2016)

Just over a year ago I reviewed The Writing Majors, a web series I loved from 2015 which took famous writers and re-interpreted them as college students; in that review I mentioned that I was looking forward to Betwixt Productions next project, which hadn’t yet been released. I was excited to see how a team that had brought such strong and relatable characters to a series were able to grow in their next project. Well, Horizons recently came to the end of its run of episodes and it proved to be one of the most imaginative Literary-Inspired Web Series I have seen so far; a wonderful example of a dystopian world that sheds a chilling light on our own reality. From its engaging opening line to its emotional ending, this was an enjoyable series that makes for particularly good binge-watching.

Horizons is a dystopian web series based on the writing of H.G. Wells, and follows the experiences of some of the ‘Survivor City 6’ citizens as they navigate the complexity and prejudices of their ‘Day and Night’ system. Leo is a Daylighter, working and living in the hours the sun is up, who decides to document his city’s unusual system for his Journalism thesis. In making his documentary, he meets a Nocturn named Stella, who works and lives in the hours the sun is down, and they begin a relationship that is considered unconventional by the majority of their city. As the series progresses, the problems Leo and Stella face become much wider than the difficulties of navigating a counter-cultural relationship: unrest in their city is growing, culminating in tragic events that will alter the course of the city’s history.

As with Betwixt Productions’ previous series, one of the great strengths of Horizons is the depth of the characters. Leo and Stella provide the emotional grounding for the series as the ‘star-crossed lovers’ who are caught up in the events of the narrative because their relationship has put them in jeopardy. Alex Tolar does a great job of showing Leo’s journey from a naïve and fairly uninformed character to someone who has seen first hand the injustice of the ‘Day and Night’ system; meanwhile, Carly Hayes portrays Stella with a passion, integrity, and humour that endears her to the audience from her first moments on screen. It is hard not to root for this central romantic relationship as the obstacles in their way become more and more dangerous.

The whole range of characters provide the audience with a multitude of perspectives with which to view the issues in the series: two of the most interesting and engaging characters to me were Ara (Nicole Billups) and Gil (Cody McCoy) as they navigate a relationship in which they are both striving to end the injustices they see around them in very different ways. The addition of Lucie (Kaylin Rogers), a Daylighter who defected to Nocturn status adds another emotional layer to the tension between the two worlds co-existing within the city.

Despite some issues with the planned release schedule, I was impressed with the production of Horizons. Betwixt Productions did a lot of work with transmedia during the initial run of the series, with the audience receiving emails from the ‘City of Horizon Government’ to alert them about new projects, upcoming votes, and updates of the dramatic news from the city. In addition, the set and costume design of the Daylighter and Nocturn worlds were fantastic; the audience really feels that they are watching two completely worlds with established cultures, fashion, and priorities. The world of the Daylighters appears as a traditional suburban lifestyle, full of pastel colours and sun through the windows; the world of the Nocturns, by contrast, is full of dark colours with a very distinctive sense of fashion and emphasis on small, local businesses.

This was an engaging series that deftly builds tension until it reaches a dramatic conclusion as the unrest in the city reaches a dangerous head. There are more layers to the narrative than I have time to unpack in this review, and I’m sure I will go on to notice more with every rewatch. Horizons is definitely a series that stands up to binge-watching and, due to the somewhat disrupted initial release, I found I actually appreciated the details of the narrative much more when I watched all the episodes over a couple of days after the series had finished. I would definitely recommend it, particularly to those who are fans of dystopian narratives and H.G. Wells, even if you are unsure whether web series are something that would interest you.

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