Episode One: At the same time that I received the first two episodes of Empty Faces, I was also graced with the first two episodes of the Hunt a Killer series “Initiation”, the 3rd season of this box subscription service. Having gone through those other Episodes with my escape room squad, I determined that I would attack these boxes by myself to see whether it would make a difference in my enjoyment or emotional attachment to the storyline. Only time (and two episodes) would tell.
Upon opening the first episode, I found myself learning all about the Listening Friends of America, a company within the Hunt a Killer world that connects individuals in the world with psychologically unhinged individuals who are inside institutions. Surprise—I was now one of those being connected to a potential killer. This meant that I was getting messages from an individual within an institution (named Jasper Flowers) who has a fascination with time so deep he even included a pocket watch with his note. No joke—it was an actual pocket watch (I was deeply impressed with this particular item.) I also received letters from Felix, the founder of the LFoA, asking us for help and trying to make certain we understand how dangerous Jasper is.
And with that, the stage is set. I found both episodes of this series to be very complex with both puzzles and a looping narrative. There were websites to be found, codes to be solved (and not easy ones, either,) and a story that suggested that Jasper had a pen pal love interest, that the person Meg who compiled the objects given to us might be unstable on her own and that Jasper has probably killed at least one person who is still missing.
I found this episode to be dense. I spent quite a long time slowly piecing together the codes and having a few massive “a-ha” moments when I suddenly understood how complicated a given puzzle had turned out to be. So the sense of accomplishment when I was through with the puzzles and understood everything there was to see in this episode was pretty strong.
In fact, the creepiest thing about this series was that even when I had used every item that was given in the box for one reason or another, I still sat there wondering. Had I found everything there was to find? I was nearly certain I had not, somehow, so the only option was to move to Episode 2 and see if anything circled back again.
Episode Two: The second episode of Hunt a Killer was even more complex and had what seemed like a lot of red herrings. Given that this is a story of a dangerous killer and the enjoyment he has manipulating others and creating puzzles for them to solve at his whim, the red herrings make sense. But they were also frustrating, for I would spend minutes staring at something only to realize that it was nothing more than what it appeared to be.
I spent even more time working on those things that I did recognize as being puzzles or ciphers, this time including things such as a grasshopper print and a jewelry box (again, the idea that every box includes these items was impressive to my mind.) Solving these puzzles both generated a strong sense of accomplishment and, surprisingly, made me feel like I was slowly being indoctrinated into the understanding of how the killer thinks. I even contemplated (just for a moment) the idea of how frightening this situation would be if this were a real event and not simply a narrative diversion.
I consider that to be a strong compliment for this series—because for just a moment, I was seriously freaked out at the idea of how terrifying this would be in real life. Congratulations, Hunt a Killer, that’s a strong, successful effort.
Moreover, these puzzles were really smart ones. They were ones that challenged you to be smart and clever—puzzles that towered over those that I ran into in Empty Faces. Perhaps these puzzles are more complicated because they know that many of their subscribers have already done earlier seasons of HaK and need the tougher challenge. But doing them both back-to-back made Empty Faces’ challenges feel less impressive somehow.
Once again, however, I ran into the problem that Episode Two was narratively a situation that added backstory and complication without answering many questions. Perhaps it’s just a necessity of doing a story in this sort of episodic way, but I felt again that the value of these boxes would be higher if each one felt more self-enclosed and ended with a real sense of closure and/or cliffhanger. Because while I most definitely want to see how this story ends, I would be that much more intrigued and eager if the episode gave me a clear beginning, middle and end.
Instead, one of the realities of these boxes is that they give you a bunch of information and leave you to sort out the solutions. That strategy of narrative lets audiences have the strongest ability to solve things as they can or want to solve them—but it also means that it becomes hard to tell when you’re done and it leaves each piece on an equal emotional value because you can get to them from any direction.
Overall, however, I actually found the Hunt a Killer series to be creepier and scarier to me than the Empty Faces series. Perhaps it was because I chose to do them individually. It might just be that I find serial killers more personally frightening than witches or the paranormal.
All I know is this: I want to see the rest of this series right now. And I sincerely, deeply hope that the Nightmarish Conjurings Hole of Horror (otherwise known as the mailbox) spews forth one of the larger, complete in one box stories from Hunt a Killer. Because I would love to see how they approach the narrative when it’s all within one single package.