The town of Mercer, Ohio, is nondescript; tired, rusty, off the beaten track, not so much a has been as a never was, the adults content to go about their business, focused inward on their lives as they shuffle with eyes cast downward, only the children noticing the oddness, the things which don’t quite fit their understanding of how the world should be.
A black rock on top of the white of the snow, obviously fallen or placed there afterwards, but with no sign as to where it came from or hint of the power it contains, the robotic sentries in the forest, silently watching, harmless and barely interactive, the house which seems to fall upwards into the sky…
On the edge of town are the three towers which don’t belong, the only visible markers of the Mercer Centre for Experimental Physics, though what is below ground may be vastly larger, perhaps tunnelling beneath the whole of the town to where a young girl places her ear to the ground, listening for vibrations, seeking a clue as to the whereabouts of her mother.
Nicknamed “the Loop,” director Russ makes a joke of it when he says “everyone is connected to the Loop in one way or another,” but there is no humour in his words: these are the Tales from the Loop, nine stories threaded together of a town full of strange and fantastic things where time and history may not be quite as they are remembered outside.
Developed by Legion‘s Nathaniel Halpern, Tales from the Loop is based on the work of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag and the role-playing game of the same name they inspired, a fusion of traditional rural and urban environments in which futuristic objects have been placed, obvious to the viewer as something which does not belong but overlooked by those in the frame, a part of their lives to which they are so accustomed as to be oblivious.
With later episodes directed by John Carter‘s Andrew Stanton, The Sacrament‘s Ti West and Little Man Tate‘s Jodie Foster among others, the opening episode Loop is from Never Let Me Go‘s Mark Romanek as Loretta (The Awakening’s Rebecca Hall), daughter of the MCEP’s director (Narcopolis’ Jonathan Pryce), tries to find the missing mother of the girl (Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s Abby Ryder Fortson).
A mix of childhood nostalgia with an undercurrent of the uncanny, Tales from the Loop sits somewhere in the shadows beyond Stranger Things and A Town Called Eureka just shy of the borders of The Twilight Zone, hopeful rather than sinister but only because the population are so disengaged in their lives as dictated by the tenets of the source material: adults are out of reach and out of touch, everyday life is dull and unforgiving.
The elements of the mystery carefully layered but absent a reason to care, like the repeated phrases of the Philip Glass soundtrack progression is what is needed, the alternating abstract wonder and sadness of a child barely sufficient to carry the hour format meaning that any subsequent circuits around the Loop will need to search for deeper purpose.
Tales of the Loop debuts on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 3rd April