“The Handmaid’s Tale” Is Powerful And Eerily Relevant Yet Has Rich Filmmaking

Caution: Major spoilers ahead.

While a story about a patriarchal, totalitarian regime feels so relevant that is literally frightening, The Handmaid’s Tale still manages to be fascinating to watch thanks to the creative team involved. It offers chills that are scarier than Jason Voorhees killing airheaded teenagers for countless Friday the 13th sequels within a span of three episodes yet it is still a rich piece of filmmaking that dares you to keep watching.

The Handmaid’s Tale is based on a 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood that is set in a society known as Gilead where certain women who are able to have children are forced to serve as Handmaids for couples unable to have children and bear children for them. The story reolves around a handmaid named June (Elisabeth Moss), given the name “Offred,” who always has her head down, trying to survive another day, reflecting on her free life when she was both a wife and a mother.

Within the first few minutes of the first episode, I was already hooked. One of the main reasons is the strong performances. Elisabeth Moss easily carries the show on her shoulders as Offred, delivering a mix of frail vulnerability mixed with sly humor and a persistent self-awareness of her true identity. Even as those around her force their will upon her, Offred never loses sight of who she once was or is.

But while Moss’ work is completely aces, her fellow supporting actresses aren’t any less spectacular; Ann Dowd is chilling with caricatural precision as the villainous mentor of the Handmaids named Aunt Lydia, Yvonne Strahovski showcases brittle vulnerability as Serena Joy, the barron wife of Offred’s commander, Samara Wiley provides magnetic comfort within the constraints of her limited screen time as Offred’s best friend Moira, and Alexis Bledel is a complete revelation as Offred’s fellow Handmaid Ofglen.

Bledel initially brings a thorny wit that is similar of Offred’s, only it is more vocal as opposed to Offred’s humor being showcased through internal voiceover narration. But in the third episode known as “Late,” Bledel does some of the most heart wrenching acting you will see on television. The genius of her work on that episode is that she hardly utters a single word. The horror and despair being showcased is all in her eyes. Ofglen becomes put to trial simply for being gay and as she watches her lover become executed, it had me personally on the verge of tears. Even though we never got to see the relationship between Ofglen (whose real name is Emily) and her lover, when they show a wordless affection for one another, it feels like we still get a sense of how loving their relationship is. But what adds to the heartbreak of that scene is how the camera never cuts away from the sheer horror taking place.

The setting of the story along with its tone is ultimately grim. But interestingly, thanks to the aesthetics involved in the filmmaking, it becomes impossible to look away. For instance, the cinematography by director/executive producer Reed Morano is luminous enough to contrast with the grim setting. Also, the colorful costume design by Ane Crabtree is also distinctively magnetic with the Handmaids wearing blood-red dresses to represent how they are the “vessels” for the Wives they work for and who wear light blue. Lastly, there is the writing that includes Offred’s internal monologues packed with dry wit to add some levity to the show’s more serious tone.

So in spite of the eerie timeliness surrounding the show, The Handmaid’s Tale is already an innovative work of art worth binge watching. It features terrific performances all around along with magnetic filmmaking. This is a show not to be missed.

Grade: A+ (First three episodes)