Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Curse of the Shadows – The Tale of the Night Frights Review
*This Review Contains Full Spoilers*
On this week’s episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Curse of the Shadows, The Tale of the Night Frights, the group fends off the Shadowman’s (Kyle Strauts) advances now that they’re all beginning to realize that they’re all cursed.
At the end of last week’s episode, we got a perfectly terrifying sequence of Luke (Bryce Gheisar) being backed into a corner by the Shadowman and only being able to clap on the light in his room at the last second. With the final moments of the episode being so strong, I was hoping this episode could continue the momentum, but it just doesn’t. It has a solid opening with Luke experiencing a nightmare where a ghoulish looking Connor (Parker Queenan) haunts him, but it unfortunately leads us into more lackluster humor, weak character relationships and dynamics, and more missed horror opportunities.
Now, I really don’t want to continually point the finger at director Jeff Wadlow for this season’s shortcomings since it wouldn’t be fair, and he does bring some really awesome stuff here – which I will get to. However, the humor, dialogue, and thin characters feel like the bad parts of Truth or Dare and Fantasy Island. Right after we get that solid opening sequence, we’re brought into another awkward conversation between Luke and his Dad with an incredibly odd masturbation joke and more unnecessary dialogue. From here, we just get more of the series trying to establish the group’s personalities and roles going forward without really fleshing them out. Gabby’s (Malia Baker) character traits now shift to her learning how to drive and doing the usual stealing her mother’s car for the group scenario. Jai (Arjun Athalye) is continuing his streak of being an overbearing jokester with him attempting to be funny, but really being incredibly annoying.
Hanna’s (Beatrice Kitsos) activism now bleeds into her clothing as she wears a lot of obnoxious shirts that evoke her to be the “strong female character” that she just isn’t. If it wasn’t for that and her pretty typical older sister/younger brother relationship with Seth (Dominic Mariche), she’d be just as bland as Gabby. It’s just annoying that this show just unnecessarily throws in this politicalized character that’s more like a caricature with how it tries to represent her beliefs and ideology. Also, it’s even worse is that it looks like the series is going to trying force her into a relationship with Luke since there’re moments where awkward love is forced into their dynamic. It’s just a bummer that these characters feel totally thin and forced into character-types and relationships that just aren’t necessary or remotely interesting.
Luke is the most frustrating of all though because it doesn’t feel like the series knows what it wants him to be. Admittedly, it’s in large part that Luke feels lost without Connor and struggles to find his footing as a replacement leader for the group. However, that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to have such a weak grasp on his character, especially as a lead, and there’re times where he just feels all over the place. His longing looks towards Hanna feel super forced and sudden, him having a sudden realization that the Shadowman is weak to light doesn’t make sense given that’s exactly how he beat him the night before, and this whole thing with him being on the wrestling team just adds nothing to what’s happening. I think now that the group has confronted Luke about him missing Connor and needing to step up, things will get better. Hopefully the group dynamic gets a little bit too since the constant ragging on one another and disagreeing is getting old.
Overall, there just need to be more moments where the group comes together and acts more genuine with one another. There’s this really great moment in the episode where Seth asks the group about Connor and Gabby uses a comic to describe the group dynamic and it feels like a real moment. The characters get to really talk to each other and we get to know these characters past their personas to see how they view each other. It’s even great to see this moment reflected in the final battle that takes place near the end of the episode. Going forward, there needs to more moments like this so there’s a reason to care about these characters because at this point the only thing really stringing me along is some of the great horror moments this series can bring even if they’re hit or miss.
It’s a shame that the series can’t capitalize on creating really great suspense and mystery with certain moments in this episode. The sequence of Gabby running from the Shadowman in the streets and Jai looking at his life unfold in the comic book he’s reading could’ve been great but just aren’t built up well. There’s no real lead-up to these moments so there’s no real shock when they happen. The battle that happens throughout the final act of the episode at least get things going in a hopeful direction as it totally showcases the horrifying and dominating presence of the Shadowman. Even better is that the group getting into Connor’s laptop has them going back to Sardo’s (Ryan Bell) magic shop to learn how to perform a séance. The smirk that Luke has about a séance oddly left me optimistic and I’m hoping that it’s a major turning point in the series.
Curse of the Shadows has a lot of character work to do to break its central Midnight Society out of their bland and frustrating character molds. The second season is still delivering some, albeit underwhelming at times, good scares, but it really needs to more to impress.