Macey Chipping in Mystic (2021)
The fictional town of Kauri Point is home to a tight-knit community of people. Shot on location in New Zealand, this small town has a tranquil way of life and a strong sense of togetherness set against a beautiful landscape. But there is more to Kauri Point than meets the eye, and in a town where everyone knows everyone, news travels fast. There’s something incessantly appealing about stories set in small towns. When done well, the intimacy of getting to know a lot of characters and spending time in a place that becomes familiar can become a comfort. As well, when everyone knows each other on a first name basis, the potentiality for secrets to reverberate is high. In HBO’s prestige crime drama Mare of Easttown, the consequences of crime in a small town have a devastating ripple effect on the residents. Where the show excels is in getting to know multiple characters and all the hidden drama behind them, starting with Kate Winslet’s Mare as her whole world falls out from beneath her. Beyond this and the many crime detective shows that utilize a similar setting, fueling the appeal of small town stories is how they bend to various genres and scenarios. Canadian hit show Schitt’s Creek sees a rich family suddenly lose everything, and with no other option, they move into a small town in the middle of nowhere. Part of the hilarity (and sincerity) is watching the Rose family interact with the residents like fish out of water, and then form close bonds as a result of getting to know them. Both shows utilize small communities well, and there’s room for another to watch in the family friendly series Mystic.
Mystic is based on bestselling author Stacy Gregg’s Pony Club Secrets book series and executive produced by Brian Bird, co-creator of the popular Canadian-American drama series When Calls the Heart. Mystic incorporates multiple genres and speaks to many meaningful themes, from environmentalism to friendship. At the core is a young girl on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. When 14-year-old British girl Issie Brown (Macey Chipping) moves to her mother’s remote hometown in New Zealand following the death of her father, she feels out of place and missing her friends from London. She begrudgingly finds herself in Kauri Point, which appears to be an ordinary community where horse riding is the popular activity. Living with her mom and activist grandmother, Issie befriends members of a local youth equestrian club, and things get strange. With the appearance of Mystic, a spirit horse only Issie can see, she soon uncovers secrets about a mysterious group of horses connected to environmental turmoil. An industrial development threatens to destroy their community and landscape. Issie, along with her (real) horse Blaze, and the club must find a way to save Kauri Point from disaster.
Issie is a wonderful protagonist for the series as she fights for the truth at all costs. When faced with a challenge, whether it be friendship drama, trouble riding a horse, or threats from a multi-billion dollar company, she maintains her stance and moves with the intention to learn. The move to Kauri Point has put a strain on Issie’s relationship with her mom Amanda (Laura Patch), as leaving London feels like leaving behind memories of her late father. Issie has a tendency to go rogue, while her mom has a steady rulebook approach. The two naturally butt heads, and with Issie’s grandmother Mitch (Cathy Downes) in the picture, 3 generations of women in one household brings a lot of texture to the story. Their often quick-witted conversations create some charming and humorous moments among the more sprawling themes like environmental concerns and spiritual bonding. Macey Chipping is up to the task and does a wonderful job portraying her character’s strong-willed personality. Given how much of the story hinges on discovering truths and unmasking corporate greed, Issie is a great character to go on this adventure with as she pushes for transparency. Chipping also shows a wonderful balance of Issie feeling out of her element yet also wanting to belong, and slowly discovering her potential with the support of her new friends.
Top: Antonia Robinson, Max Crean, Kirk Torrance, Harriet Walton, Joshua Tan, Jacqueline Joe
Bottom: Laura Patch, Macey Chipping, Cathy Downes
Mystic is set against the beautiful backdrop of New Zealand, naturally making each and every frame a picturesque one. The cinematography by Dave Cameron and Drew Sturge give this series an ethereal lens. They capture a secluded pocket of the world that has ancient untouched land, which further drives home the importance of environmental protection. The ethereal quality also fits very well with the spiritual nature of the story. While some shots of the mystic horse and Issie’s visions are a little cheesy-looking, they evoke a magical setting that is consistent throughout the series. Mystic covers universal topics that people of all generations can relate to and feel strongly about. Environmental stability in particular is of course an ongoing worldwide discussion, and its exploration feels like a natural part of the series. The story shines a light on the importance of educating yourself on such concerns and using your voice to make a difference. While some lines feel thrown in for the purpose of sharing a statistic, there’s a lot to be said for how the series brings attention to a younger generation. A cast of mostly teenagers band together to take down Hexronn, a multi national company threatening to trample over Kauri Point and clear an ancient forest to build a plastic bottling plant. Hexronn divides people of the town, as many applaud them for creating jobs and sponsoring local sports teams, not batting an eye at the environmental cost. It’s up to Issie and her friends to make a change, which mirrors much of today’s reality where more youth are speaking up against corrupt measures.
A strong sense of community also plays a strong role throughout, particularly among the equestrian club. While Issie’s actions drive much of the plot, Mystic dedicates time and patience to fleshing out a lot of the young characters. Their shared storylines result in some heartfelt dynamics and touch on the importance of inclusivity. There is great representation of LGBTQ acceptance with the character of Caleb (Joshua Tan) and his experience coming out to his friends. As well, the focus on Issie’s relationship with her mom brings more depth to Issie’s past, and how she’s been dealing with a lot of regret and sadness about her father. The series sees a catharsis for this character and an extra insight into why she developed such a strong connection to her horse, the only one she feels truly understood by. Issie has multiple visions about wild horses throughout, each one leading her closer to uncovering the secrets buried in Kauri Point. Viewers can discover clues to the mystery along with her, which makes for an entertaining journey of awaiting how she’ll decide to take action after each vision. The series does have a tendency to overtly explain all that’s going on, which turns out to be Mysic’s biggest weakness. Some of the writing feels stilted as the series takes a literal approach, which often knocks the wind out of its sails. Moments of heightened drama and mystery lack the tension to fuel elements mysterious elements, of which there are many. Given the strong visual storytelling and how often visions play a part in revealing clues, the series doesn’t fully take advantage of this opportunity to show rather than tell. Thankfully, the wit and enthusiasm of an incredibly talented cast help elevate the material into a charming experience.
Mystic is not simply a story about horses for horse enthusiasts. The series touches on an abundance of meaningful themes, and maintains its core focus as a journey of self-discovery. There are interesting parallels drawn between Issie’s spiritual bond with horses and the spiritual bond she has with herself. The series has strong portrayals of friendship, family dynamics, environmental activism, and the notion that the younger generation will be the ones to implement change. With each episode of this 13-part series, the message of protecting our planet from greed and harm reverberates stronger. Filled with adventure, mystery, and resonating universal messages, Mystic is a comforting story that people of all ages can engage with.
Mystic premieres Sunday, May 16 at 8pm ET on Super Channel Heart & Home.
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