Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Season 2 Premiere Review
When it premiered back in 2019, Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? reboot showed great potential for the series to deliver an American Horror Story styled series fitting for a younger audience. Now the series makes a return to hopefully live up to that potential with a scary new antagonist that haunts an all-new Midnight Society.
The series premiere introduces us to a new group of kids that sneak out at midnight to tell horror stories to each other that’s sadly not as great as the first season. I’m all for doing different things, but it’s a little odd to have these kids interact with each other on a pretty normal basis. There was just something special about this group of kids that don’t interact in their normal lives but come together for one moment to bond over something they all love – scary stories. It made their love of horror much stronger, they actually had to get to know each other on a personal level in order to work together, and it helped make them stand out much more. Here though, none of that really comes through and the kids don’t make much of an impression in this first episode.
Main lead Luke (Bryce Gheisar) simply drives the search of the group’s reckless missing leader Connor (Parker Queenan) while the other characters fit into familiar character types. Jai (Arjun Athalye) is just the talkative comic relief, Hanna (Beatrice Kitsos) is the school activist, Seth (Dominic Mariche) is Hanna’s dweeby younger brother that’s obsessed with magic, and Gabby (Malia Baker) is, well, just there since there’s nothing much to her other than her crummy job. None of them give bad performances or anything like that, but the overall feel of their dynamic is just weird and, personally, I think it’s in large part because of who the director for this season is.
As the opening credits sequence scrolled through, which is still as cool and creepy as ever, I noticed that Jeff Wadlow was listed as the director and my heart kind of sank. For those that don’t know him, he’s probably best known for directing Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare and their remake of Fantasy Island. There’re things to appreciate about those films as there’re things to appreciate here, but his direction here just feels like a kid version of his past horror works. The line delivery just feels overly goofy, the jokes are hit or miss, and even the setups for scares just aren’t always that impressive. The moment of seeing a digital clock suddenly having the word Shadow on it to reference to the season’s big baddie, The Shadowman (Kyle Strauts), defines on the nose and unnecessary. Overall, things get off to a bit of bland start for this season, but the premiere certainly shows some great potential for the Shadowman and the overall narrative.
The overall concept of the Midnight Society trying to find their leader that’s been captured by the Shadowman is really interesting and is made even better with how the premiere introduces its demonic antagonist. The story told by a magic shop owner named Sardo (Ryan Bell) sets up the Shadowman really well with his power giving off vibes of James Wan’s Lights Out, his visual effects and character design looking cool and creepy, and his background being shrouded in darkmystery. It’s even interesting that his power grows with time and that you can only escape his grasp for so long. All of this is what makes the group eventually being cursed like Connor after they head into the woods looking for him such a solid build-up for the Shadowman’s presence. The entire end sequence of Luke realizing that the Shadowman has now cursed them is easily the most suspenseful of the episode and ends things on a perfectly terrifying note. It shows the potential for the fun and intense horrors that the rest of this season can hopefully continue delivering.
Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? reboot is back to deliver another intriguing horror story but is still getting back on its feet. Things are off to a bit of a shaky start with its new Midnight Society but the premiere presents a solid premise and a scarier antagonist that could make this season another success for the reboot.