Darren Lynn Bousman directs this flashy episode of Fear Itself, about a girl who wakes up hung over from a night of partying on New Year's Eve to find that the world has descended into chaos thanks to a chemical spill that infects most of the city. It's easy to recognize the director's influence here; the quick cuts, the jarring and heavily-edited shots of fast-forwarded movement, are Bousman's technique, and the bluish tint cast over the majority of the tale reminds of the dark scenery from his work on the Saw films.
It translates okay to television with what seems to be a straightforward episode about zombies. Briana Evigan plays Helen, a young woman who is struggling to fit in with her friends.She's been interested in seeing James (Cory Monteith), but their relationship is very much on-again/off-again and she's not happy with the results. We start in medias res, with Helen waking up to a world of sirens, flashing lights, and gunshots. As the episode progresses, Bousman backtracks through snippets of the night before, scenes that Helen remembers as she sees familiar faces or settings.
This is what Bousman tends to do anyway; his films are never as cut-and-dry as they appear to be, and the same is true of "New Year's Day". He works his way through the party the night before after every encounter with zombies - if Helen sees her zombie roommate Eddie (Niall Matter), the story flips to the night before where he did something to contribute to whatever's happening. In a way, it's interesting to view the minute details of this zombie outbreak; though there's a larger explanation for this apocalypse, the way "New Year's Day" chooses to focus on the individual's contribution to the end of the world works as a different method of exploring a genre fading into banality.
But the quick cuts of Bousman's flashy style tend to interrupt whatever pacing the episode has going for it. The shifty camera views belong in a heavy metal band's music video, not in a horror movie or television show; what worked for Saw doesn't necessarily work for other ideas. In those films, the very fast scene snippets mimicked the panic of the victim in the trap, while in "New Year's Day" that frenetic movement isn't necessary.
The ending doubles back on itself for an elaborate twist, one that isn't entirely noticeable throughout the episode. That might have something to do with the use of deliberately concealing any event that might foreshadow the conclusion - a tact that might cheapen the surprise - but at least Bousman and writer Steve Niles are able to throw a conceit that attempts to thwart the genre's cliches.
"New Year's Day" isn't the best episode of Fear Itself, but it does maintain its own style throughout. That's due to Bousman's characteristic direction, and the zombies of this episode are certainly worth more attention than some of the other, more cliched fare in the genre. Also, check it out for Briana Evigan's boobs - they are everywhere.