BLACK MIRROR Season 4 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 5 hours 48 minutes

Directed by: Toby Haynes, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade & Colm McCarthy

Written by: Charlie Brooker & William Bridges

Starring: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Owen Teague, Andrea Riseborough, Andrew Gower, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Gwyneth Keyworth, George Blagden, Maxine Peake, Jake Davies, Clint Dyer, Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright, Aldis Hodge & Babs Olusanmokun

Over the past seven years, Charlie Brooker’s BLACK MIRROR has gained a large fanbase. After getting seven episodes (two seasons and a holiday special) in the UK, Netflix picked up BLACK MIRROR and granted Charlie Brooker the freedom to make a 12-episode season. Wanting to dedicate more time and care into his new stories, Brooker split this into two six-episode-long seasons. Season 3 made waves in 2017 and won over more fans. After lots of hints and speculation, Netflix dropped BLACK MIRROR Season 4 at the tail-end of 2017! As with all my BLACK MIRROR reviews, I’ll briefly cover each episode before giving my thoughts on the season as a whole…

USS CALLISTER: BLACK MIRROR’s fourth season immediately kicks off with the best episode of the bunch. A woman awakens in a STAR TREK-like universe only to discover that this brightly colored sci-fi adventure isn’t all that it appears to be. What starts off as a campy TREK spoof quickly morphs into something else entirely. I won’t dive into further details for fear of ruining some of the fun, but this is very much a BLACK MIRROR story through and through. The mixture of campy humor and sinister creepiness is a blast to watch, while the production values look extraordinary. This is not only Season 4’s best episode, but I also consider it to be one of the top five episodes of the entire series! A+

ARKANGEL: Season 4’s saddest episode arrives in this cautionary tale about extreme helicopter parenting. After her daughter briefly goes missing and then reappears, a single mother injects experimental technology into her child’s brain so she can monitor her at all times and block potentially harmful content from her eyes. However, this technology begins to backfire as her young daughter shows warning signs of mental distress and things take an ultimate turning point years later. ARKANGEL doesn’t simply lambaste helicopter parents, but also gives an empathetic insight into their concerns. However, it also shows a gripping downward spiral of bad decisions, awful mistakes, and terrifying technology (that honestly doesn’t seem that far off). Though this episode isn’t one of the all-time best, it does stick out as one of the series’ most depressing tales and that’s quite a feat. A

CROCODILE: This seriously bleak ditty follows two different storylines that are bound for tense collision. A woman desperately tries to cover up a dark secret, which involves a couple of skeletons in her closet. Meanwhile, an investigator is hired to look into a car accident and puts clues together from memories of the people who witnessed it. The episode jumps back-and-forth between these two narratives until both main characters are in the same room and bad things happen, very bad things happen. This episode actually had one shocking bit that made my jaw drop and exhibits particularly cruel irony. The darker-than-dark CROCODILE is perfect and one of the season’s biggest highlights! A+

HANG THE DJ: The season’s weakest episode takes a light-hearted sci-fi look at romance. In a future where an automated Siri-like system controls the length of relationships, a couple meet up for 12 hours and fall madly in love with each other. Though the system and rules seem stacked against them, this couple attempts to break and rebel against the broken system. Much like last season’s SAN JUNIPERO (which was a hit among many fans for some reason), HANG THE DJ doesn’t feel like your typically dark BLACK MIRROR episode. The concept behind this episode is cool and there are great bits of comedy, but the pacing lags and the ending is disappointingly stupid. While some folks might consider this to be a great episode, I felt that the light-hearted tone, occasionally slow pacing, and silly twist ending worked against it. It’s not bad, but it’s just okay. B-

METALHEAD: Season 4’s last spot of perfection sticks out from the usual series tropes for a number of reasons. METALHEAD’s plot is very simple. The visuals are shot with a grim black-and-white style, that reminded me a bit of scenes from David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD. The 38-minute running time also makes this the shortest BLACK MIRROR episode so far. All of these unusual qualities turn out to be great benefits because this episode is thick with dread, full of suspense, and gives us a creepy tale of cat-and-mouse. The term dog-and-cat would be more fitting to describe this story though, because it follows a woman who’s desperately trying to survive being pursued by a weaponized robotic dog that just won’t let up. Lots of quiet tension, an unusual monster (inspired by real-life robotic dogs), disturbing visuals, and a bleak atmosphere make this into another perfect episode. A+

BLACK MUSEUM: Season 4 ends on a high note with a mini-anthology episode. A woman stumbles upon the deserted Black Museum (which displays true crime technological memorabilia). Guided by the creepy (and crass) museum owner, we watch three different tales of madness and wonder. With 20 more minutes, this episode might have served as its own crazy sci-fi/horror anthology film. As a BLACK MIRROR episode, it’s a ridiculously entertaining finale to an overall great season. This is basically BLACK MIRROR mixed with TALES FROM THE CRYPT as each of the three stories (and the wraparound segment) all focus on cruel twists of fate, horrific ideas, and scummy people getting what they deserve (alongside innocent casualties). The only flaw that keeps this episode from being perfect comes in a final reveal during the last minute that feels like one twist too many. Still, this is a great episode that I immediately rewatched after it ended.  A-

BLACK MIRROR’s fourth season contains the best batch of episodes since the first season (back in 2011). This season’s structure is particularly strong too as we get a perfect episode, a great episode, another perfect episode, an okay episode, yet another perfect episode, and an almost perfect mini-anthology to cap everything off on a high note. Even the worst episode in this season is okay and more than watchable. If you’re a BLACK MIRROR fan, you’ll likely be delighted by the latest selection of twisted tales. If you haven’t watched an episode of BLACK MIRROR and you dig dark sci-fi anthologies (like TWILIGHT ZONE), then you should binge this series as soon as humanly possible! Here’s hoping that Netflix renews BLACK MIRROR for many more seasons, because this series has never been better!

Grade: A

STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 7 hours 38 minutes

Directed by: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy, Andrew Stanton & Rebecca Thomas

Written by: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Justin Doble, Paul Dichter, Jessie Nickson-Lopez & Kate Trefry

Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalie Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Noah Schnapp, Joe Keery, Sadie Sink, Dacre Montgomery, Sean Astin, Paul Reiser, Linnea Berthelsen & Brett Gelman

Over a year after STRANGER THINGS debuted as a massive Netflix hit and gained a dedicated fanbase, STRANGER THINGS 2 hit Netflix just in time for Halloween. While many Netflix subscribers binge-watched the entire second season over its opening weekend (myself included), I couldn’t help but feel that the series had gone through a noticeable decline in quality. STRANGER THINGS 2 brings back the characters that you know and love, but slow pacing and unbalanced storytelling really knocked this season-long sequel down a peg.

It’s been nearly a year since Will Buyers (Noah Schnapp) was rescued from a parallel dimension and he seems to be suffering from supernatural-related PTSD. Will’s trauma-fueled flashbacks might actually be current visions into “The Upside Down” and something very dangerous might be looking back at Will. Meanwhile, Will’s friends (Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin) begin a tepid friendship with new kid Maxine (Sadie Sink). Also, preteen psychic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is trying to find a way to get back to a depressed Mike (Finn Wolfhard), all while protective police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) keeps her under his watchful eye. And…this season also has interdimensional monsters and another tattooed psychic, but it takes a while to reach that point.

I want to make something clear, STRANGER THINGS 2 is fun. I like STRANGER THINGS 2. It’s a good season, but there are problems that cannot be ignored. This season’s flaws irked me enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of its nine episodes. One of the first problems arrives in the noticeably slower pacing. It seems like the viewer has to wait for a long while for anything of major consequence to occur within the first four episodes. A majority of the season’s first half is spent introducing/developing a couple of new characters, showing that Will has interdimensional PTSD, and delivering 80s nostalgia through the five (eventually, six) child characters. The GHOSTBUSTERS homage was funny and all, but what was really accomplished by showing that?

STRANGER THINGS 2’s off-again-on-again pacing and messy storytelling wouldn’t be so annoying, if the show didn’t try to distractingly shoehorn a few subplots in early on. The season’s very first scene involves a mysterious new character “Eight” (played by Linnea Berthelsen). Besides a useless opening prologue, Eight doesn’t return until the seventh episode(!) and this character didn’t have much of a purpose to serve at all in the grand scheme of the season’s story. Eight’s presence feels like arbitrary set-up for STRANGER THINGS 3.

To further harp on how dull and out-of-place Eight’s subplot was, she played a large(ish) role in Eleven’s storyline. Millie Bobby Brown’s performance is just as great as her work in the first season and she receives a bit more to do this time around. However, that damned seventh episode grinds things to a halt as a few episodes seem to forget about her presence altogether. It might have been better to intersperse her subplot alongside the craziness occurring at a nearby lab and Will’s increasingly alarming behavior. Instead, it felt like the writers and showrunners said “Oh shit! We have a ton of Eleven’s scenes and need some place to put them. Let’s just dump them all into the weakest episode of the season and grind all building momentum to a halt for an entire hour.” This was distractingly sloppy storytelling through and through.

For all of its messy pacing and distractingly uneven subplots, STRANGER THINGS 2 remains fun and entertaining. The storyline of Max joining the gang, the ever-present threat of her psycho older brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery), and a subplot about Dustin getting a secret otherworldly pet are fun to watch. One of the first season’s weakest points becomes this season’s biggest strength: the teenage drama between Natalia Dyer’s Nancy, Charlie Heaton’s Jonathan, and Joe Keery’s Steve.

As potential sparks fly between Nancy and Jonathan, Steve proves himself to be a better babysitter than a boyfriend (it helps that he’s adept with a spiked-bat against monstrous “Demogorgons”). I also thought it was extremely clever how the Duffer brothers took the inexplicable “Justice for Barb” movement that erupted in the wake of STRANGER THINGS and made that a crucial plot point during STRANGER THINGS 2. Brett Gelman also has a brief but hilarious role as a conspiracy theorist in this highly entertaining, intriguing storyline.

As far as STRANGER THINGS 2’s supernatural hijinks are concerned, the season has no problem in further fleshing out “The Upside Down” and its monstrous inhabitants. This season also has a big bad, though the finale’s “to be continued” final shot indicates that it will wind up possibly being a series’ big bad. The monsters are enjoyable to watch (there are multiple beasties in this season) and later episodes milk tense scenes for all that they’re worth. I won’t name names or spoil specific details, but this season’s most irksome character dies a painful death. It’s likely that this character will become Season 2’s equivalent of Barb. People will probably love this person and I’ll be just as baffled by the inexplicable fan following as I was for the briefly glimpsed Barb. Seriously, Barb was only in three episodes and barely a character. Why is she so special?

STRANGER THINGS 2 is fun, but suffers from an overall step down in quality. In some ways, this second season tries to be more ambitious than the first season (more monsters, Will is in a different kind of peril, and there’s the looming threat of a secret organization). However, this second season is too slow in its first half, has one annoying subplot that seems to be obvious set-up for STRANGER THINGS 3, and one episode that egregiously grinds everything to a halt for an hour. STRANGER THINGS was great and STRANGER THINGS 2 is only good. Though it references everything from GREMLINS to GHOSTBUSTERS to more King/Carpenter/Spielberg nods, STRANGER THINGS 2 seems to have unintentionally become the ultimate homage of disappointing (but still enjoyable) 80s sequels. I hope that STRANGER THINGS 3 pulls things back up to the quality of the stellar first season.

Grade: B

STRANGER THINGS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 6 hours 38 minutes

Directed by: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy,

Written by: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Jessica Mecklenburg, Justin Doble, Alison Tatlock & Jessie Nickson-Lopez

Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Matthew Modine, Noah Schnapp & Joe Keery

It’s been out for over a year and I’ve finally gotten around to watching Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS, a homage-filled love letter to 80s horror and science-fiction. Created by identical twin brothers who really love Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and John Carpenter, STRANGER THINGS is addicting entertainment from beginning to end. It’s safe to say that if you loved 2011’s 80s throwback SUPER 8, then you’ll probably love STRANGER THINGS too. This is like somebody threw FIRESTARTER, E.T., STAND BY ME, and other 80s horror/sci-fi creations into a blender and pureed them into a fine cinematic concoction!

The time is November 1983. After playing an intense game of D&D with his friends, 12-year-old Will Buyers (Noah Schnapp) disappears into thin air. This isn’t a simple kidnapping or abduction, because there were strange lights on the night that Will went missing and there also might be an unidentified creature on the loose. Meanwhile, a little girl with a shaved head, simply known as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), shows up at a nearby diner and is being hunted by a very dangerous secret organization. Soon enough, Will’s concerned friends (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin) run into Eleven, Will’s frantic mother (Winona Ryder) experiences odd happenings in her home, and the depressed town police chief (David Harbour) finds himself caught up in a deadly conspiracy…and I haven’t even mentioned Barb (a fan favorite for some reason).

STRANGER THINGS’s first season has a lot going on within its fast-paced eight episodes. There are many subplots that weave themselves in and out of each other, connecting to a much bigger narrative. At first, it seems like this season contains lots of little mysteries, but these little mysteries make up one large sci-fi adventure. I found myself struggling to describe this season’s premise in one paragraph, because so much stuff happens in this show. There’s never a dull moment, even in the spots where the series slows down to develop its characters and builds itself up during the first episode.

It’s worth mentioning that STRANGER THINGS is astounding on a technical level. The cinematography looks phenomenal and the effects work is of the same quality that you typically see in summer blockbusters. The Duffer brothers clearly had careful eyes towards their creation and Netflix gave them the financial means to bring their 80s-centric vision to life. STRANGER THINGS also knocks it out of the park in its soundtrack, which consists of lots of great 80s tunes that never get distracting in a style-over-substance manner. Song selections are put into the background noise, hammer home the emotions of certain scenes (especially in the episode three’s emotional climax), and even make their way in as plot points. At any rate, STRANGER THING’s use of music is pretty damned ingenious.

Solid narratives that pay loving homage to 80s entertainment and great production values wouldn’t be nearly as effective without believable performances and well-developed characters inhabiting them. STRANGER THINGS delivers in its performances across the board. Finn Wolfhard is compelling as young leader Mike, while Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb McLaughlin serve as Will’s two other friends/sidekicks. Winona Ryder sells her role as a desperate mother who’s being driven to the edge by paranoia, coming off as a nutjob to anyone around her and yet actually experiencing pretty strange things. David Harbour plays Jim Hopper with a combination of biting sarcasm and a tragic backstory.

Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, and Shannon Purser make up a teenage subplot that is also connected to the strange supernatural happenings. Though this subplot threatens to become clichéd and is easily the weakest spot of an otherwise stellar season, it does have its charms and doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong. It’s just a bit too familiar and sticks out in a show that seems to have been made based off nostalgic love for other stories and movies. At any rate, Shannon Purser’s Barb has become a fan favorite for some reason. I don’t see why, but maybe I’m just not seeing the charm about this nervous, nerdy ginger who’s barely in the show.

STRANGER THING’s real show-stealer comes in young Millie Bobby Brown’s performance as Eleven (a.k.a. El). With only occasional lines of dialogue, Eleven somehow becomes the most fleshed out character of the entire season. We see flashbacks that give us ever-emerging details about her traumatic past. I felt sorry for El and, at the same time, rooted for her to kick some ass. When she lays down the supernatural smackdown on a few bullies and ultimately comes into her own as a strong young heroine, I was ecstatic. El was easily my favorite character of the entire show and she also reignited my hunger for Eggo waffles (you’ll understand when/if you watch the series).

STRANGER THINGS is pretty friggin’ great and lives up to its much-hyped reputation. This first season is filled with great effects, a rockin’ soundtrack, solid acting, and fast-paced storytelling that lovingly references loads of 80s horror/sci-fi. Though it might be a tad too homage heavy for some viewers, this very well could go down as one of Netflix’s best series. My only minor complaint comes from the angsty teenage subplot that seems to stick out in the midst of everything else, but I loved STRANGER THINGS through and through. If you haven’t watched this show yet and you’re a fan of horror/sci-fi, then jump on this immediately!

Grade: A

CHANNEL ZERO: NO-END HOUSE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 4 hours 17 minutes

Directed by: Steven Piet

Written by: Nick Antosca, Harley Peyton, Mallory Westfall, Don Mancini, Erica Saleh, Katie Gruel, Lisa Long & Angel Varak-Iglar

(based on the creepypasta THE NO-END HOUSE by Brian Russell)

Starring: Amy Forsyth, Aisha Dee, Jeff Ward, Seamus Patterson, Sebastian Pigott, Jess Salgueiro, Melanie Nicholls-King & John Carroll Lynch

Creepypasta (modern online horror stories/urban legends) and the Syfy Channel sounds like a disastrous combination. Fortunately, CHANNEL ZERO (Syfy’s creepypasta series) delivers small-screen chills in ways that few other horror shows have ever been able to accomplish. AMERICAN HORROR STORY wishes that it was this scary, clever, and imaginative. CHANNEL ZERO’s first season (CANDLE COVE) reminded me of something that Stephen King might have written in his heyday. CHANNEL ZERO’s second season (NO-END HOUSE) is even better than the already great first season. CHANNEL ZERO: NO-END HOUSE is creepypasta adapted into a genuinely scary visual thrill ride.

Margot Sleator (Amy Forsyth) is still coping with her father’s (John Carroll Lynch) tragic death. In an effort to cheer up and do something fun, Margot and her friends (Aisha Dee, Jeff Ward, and Seamus Patterson) decide to visit an internet-famous haunted house. The ooky spooky attraction has six rooms, each one is supposedly scarier than the last. However, this supposedly fun time transforms into a psychological nightmare as the No-End House’s scares quickly become personal and last far longer than originally expected. I’m being purposely vague, lest I spoil any of the nasty surprises that NO-END HOUSE’s ever-twisting narrative has up its sleeve.

Much like the first season’s plot, Brian Russell’s creepypasta is treated simply as a starting point for a more complicated tale. To be fair, I highly recommend that you check out (at least the first two parts of) Russell’s creepypasta because it’s easily my favorite creepypasta. I was pumped to watch CHANNEL ZERO’s second season and certainly wasn’t disappointed by the final product. This six-episode miniseries is messed up in plenty of ways…and almost none of them are violently gory. There are bits of nasty violence sprinkled throughout the six episodes, but NO-END HOUSE’s frights come from a combination of eerie suggestion, nightmarishly bizarre imagery, and a dark psychological horror story.

I was very impressed by the performances in NO-END HOUSE. Syfy Channel and good acting are two things that you never typically hear uttered in the same sentence, but NO-END HOUSE is the exception. Amy Forsyth is particularly great as the ultra-depressed Margot, who finds a form of twisted comfort in the titular haunted attraction…though her life may be at stake for it. John Carroll Lynch steals the show with genuinely emotional flashbacks and also becomes a terrifying presence as this miniseries progresses onwards. I won’t say too much, but Lynch’s later scenes paint him as a conflicted character and I loved his moral dilemma that the series also throws onto the viewer’s conscience.

Aisha Dee plays Margot’s best friend, Jules, to near-perfection. Dee’s character is deeply flawed, but has good intentions at heart and wants to do the right thing…while also trying to survive the No-End House. Jeff Ward’s character is believable for most of the miniseries, though he does get too hammy during the finale. Seamus Patterson has fun in dual roles and remained an interesting presence throughout. In having these different friends overcoming/succumbing to their horrific personal trials, NO-END HOUSE juggles multiple plotlines for most of its six episodes. This approach was wise as each character’s storyline may have served as fodder for its own season, but combining them all into one trippy scarefest insures that there’s never a dull moment.

NO-END HOUSE’s production values look great and this season’s concepts are huge. Even though NO-END HOUSE revolves around the horrors of a single haunted house, the scale and magnitude of the season far surpass anything in CANDLE COVE. The constant barrage of legitimately freaky imagery ranges from disturbing to just plain odd. An atmosphere of suffocating dread hangs over every episode and never really lets the viewer get comfortable (a great quality for a suspenseful horror story). I was constantly on edge and frequently wondered how in the hell this might end. The twists that NO-END HOUSE takes in its second half are especially unnerving and downright ballsy.

My only complaints with NO-END HOUSE stem from Jeff Ward’s hammy acting in the finale (that’s not aided by a few lines of clichéd, stupid dialogue) and one storyline that felt like it was cut too short for no real reason. Admittedly, this subplot’s conclusion was a shock. The more I think about it though, the more I feel like it might have ended early purely for the sake of focusing on other characters and not because it was a suitable/believable ending for that storyline. I hate being vague, but it’s really easy to spoil spooky surprises in NO-END HOUSE.

Syfy Channel has done it again! They’ve managed to pump out another creepypasta miniseries that’s well-written, has great production values, and is one of the creepiest things I’ve seen on the small screen in quite some time. In a world where THE WALKING DEAD has become a zombie soap opera and AMERICAN HORROR STORY tries way too hard to be edgy, it’s great to have a legitimately freaky series like Syfy’s CHANNEL ZERO. Though it’s not without a couple of noticeable flaws, NO-END HOUSE is well worth a look for horror fans who enjoy creepypastas and want disturbing psychological frights (as opposed to pure gory shock value).

Grade: A-

CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 4 hours 18 minutes

Directed by: Craig William Macneill

Written by: Nick Antosca, Don Mancini, Harley Peyton, Erica Saleh, Katie Gruel & Mallory Westfall

(based on the creepypasta CANDLE COVE by Kris Straub)

Starring: Paul Schneider, Fiona Shaw, Luisa D’Oliveira, Natalie Brown, Shawn Benson

For readers who aren’t aware, “creepypastas” are modern urban legends. These eerie tales are posted on various internet forums and get passed on by readers (and other writers). There have been some genuinely nightmarish creepypastas out there and the Syfy Channel has begun adapting these tales into horror anthology series CHANNEL ZERO. When I hear Syfy Channel, I usually think of hilarious so-bad-they’re-good monster movies, lame content, and unintentionally silly series. Color me surprised because Syfy’s CHANNEL ZERO delivers the chills.

CHANNEL ZERO’s first season adapts Kris Straub’s creepypasta CANDLE COVE. Child psychologist Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) has returned to his hometown in hopes of writing a book based on a terrible series of disappearances that occurred in the late-80s. Though it sounds crazy, Mike suspects that these missing kids were somehow linked to a bizarre children’s show called CANDLE COVE. This puppet-driven series seemed to have an effect on its young viewers and bad things usually happened when it aired. Soon after his arrival, Mike discovers that CANDLE COVE has begun airing again and another child has gone missing. He investigates the bizarre mystery that only becomes stranger with each passing second and finds that a deadly chain of events may be reemerging alongside the show.

In a roundabout way, CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE feels very much like something Stephen King might have written in his heyday. There are shades of IT (children confronting an evil when they’re younger and now it’s returned during their adult years) and an atmosphere that reminded me a lot of SALEM’S LOT (a damaged man returning to his old hometown to confront his past demons and discovering actual monsters). However, this comparison might be doing CANDLE COVE a disservice, because this miniseries is damn good on its own merits. The flow may occasionally be a tad too jumpy (causing the viewer to take a moment to catch their bearings), but the storytelling is masterfully constructed in two very different time periods.

Creepy plotlines would be useless without capable actors in the cast and everyone does a damn fine job in their roles. There are a handful of characters to keep track of and the viewer might find themselves struggling to remember who’s who for the first episode, but these people grow on you and have their own individual story arcs. While certain story arcs don’t last long, other smaller ones come back in a big way. The best performances belong to Paul Schneider as Mike, Fiona Shaw as his put-upon mother, Marina Stephenson Kerr as a creepy old teacher, and Luisa D’Oliveira as a cop investigating the strange events.

Flashbacks to young Mike’s childhood and scenes with his since-missing twin brother Eddie (both of which are played believably by Luca Villacis) serve as their own storyline, while also delivering unexpected revelations about the current timeline. Little clues and tidbits about the disappearances, relationships between characters, and (of course) the disturbing children’s program all come to light in an eerie slow-burn fashion. I was desperate to know what would happen next, but also loved every bit of the season’s deliberately paced delivery that kept me on the edge of my seat.

It’s worth noting that the production values are impressive as CANDLE COVE uses deliberately cheesy visuals for its titular children’s show and then incorporates far more creatively disturbing visuals for the real-life horror elements. Scenes of a room filled with human skin as well as a child-like monster made entirely of human teeth are equally strange and extremely unnerving. Every time that damn tooth-child was on the screen, I felt downright uncomfortable and squeamish. Even though a few of these monsters and nightmarish visuals are brought in for a simple hallucination or dream sequence, they are damn effective nonetheless.

CANDLE COVE occasionally relies on nightmare-logic that may throw viewers for a loop. There are elements of the story that require an unexpectedly high suspension of disbelief, but these moments can be forgiven for the way in which the series introduces them. You’ll know what I mean if you watch CANDLE COVE, but there’s one plot development that seems like it could have been yanked from any number of Stephen King’s novels. Also, the tooth child aspect (as creepy as it is) seems like it was an afterthought to include an awesome-looking monster.

All things considered, CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE is great for a miniseries based upon an internet urban legend. This miniseries incorporates its source material in a creative way, while adding a compelling original plotline to the mix (that seems like an ultimate homage to Stephen King’s best books). The acting is believable, the twists are creative, and there are plenty of nightmarish visuals (the tooth-child will haunt my dreams forever). If you want something out of the ordinary and creepy, give CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE a look. I’m eager to see if Syfy can replicate their success with the upcoming (three!) seasons of more made-for-TV creepypasta adaptations!

Grade: B+

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