Beyond Fest Review: ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? (2019)

ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? is the latest show to receive the reboot treatment with a three-part limited series airing weekly just in time for Halloween! The series, which is directed by Dean Israelite (Power Rangers movie, Project Almanac) and written by BenDavid Grabinski (Skiptrace, Happily), boasts an brand new Midnight Society featuring Lyliana Wray (Top Gun: Maverick), Sam Ashe (Best.Worst.Weekend.Ever), Miya Cech (Rim of the World, Always Be My Maybe), Jeremy Ray Taylor (IT Chapter Two, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), and Tamara Smart (Artemis Fowl, The Worst With Witch), along with Rafael Casal (Blindspotting) as the Carnival of Doom’s ringmaster, Mr. Tophat.

This past Tuesday, while attending Beyond Fest, I had the chance to catch the World Premiere of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? which featured episodes one and two of the three-part series. Instead of each episode being its own individual story, this newly reimagined series focuses instead on the newest member of the Midnight Society, Rachel (Lyliana Wray) who, upon her initiation into the society, must tell a scary story. Haunted by dreams of a mysterious figure known as Mr. Tophat (Rafael Casal), Rachel uses her nightmares to spin a tale about a young girl, a carnvial, and a fearsome ringmaster. What was supposed to only be a fictional tale ends up unfolding into a real living, breathing nightmare as the Midnight Society finds themselves up against the Carnival of Doom and its evil ringmaster, Mr. Tophat.

I absolutely love that a new generation of horror kids are going to have the opportunity to experience ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? Not only is this limited series a wonderful Halloween treat for us older fans who grew up on the show in the ’90s, but it’s also a perfect gateway to initiate younger fans that have an interest in the horror genre. Though it definitely caters to a younger audience, there are enough nostalgia-pulling triggers that adults fans will be hard pressed to not crack a smile. However, what really makes this show work successfully is the chemistry between the new members of the Midnight society – because if you don’t get that right then you don’t have the heart of the show. Most will recognize Jeremy Ray Taylor from his role as young Ben Hanscom in IT but in ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? he plays Graham, the horror-obsessed, germaphobic teen who loves Cronenberg and sees potential in Rachel as a new member of the Society. Lyliana Wray, who plays Rachel, balances that fine line of being shy and haunted by a past she doesn’t quite understand, while also finding a sense of acceptance upon being initiated into the group.

Rounding out the rest of the Midnight Society are Akiko (played by Miya Cech) as the tough-as-nails, inspiring director who uses the Carnival of Doom as a backdrop to making a possible future documentary. Gavin (played by Sam Ashe Arnold) is the possible love interest for Rachel who supports her quest in uncovering the truth of the carnival and Mr. Tophat’s existence. Louise (played by Tamara Smart) is a fierce and popular cheerleader who is the head of the Midnight Society. What’s so great about this cast is not only are they relatable and genuine, they are also diverse, allowing most anyone that views the show to find a character in which they seem themselves in. I would be remissed if I didn’t mention the villain himself, Mr. Tophat (played by Rafael Casal) the enigmatic ringmaster with a sinister undertone. I know we are supposed to fear him, especially since he eats live scorpions as if they were Doritos, but instead I found myself completely mesmerized by him and his performance. I don’t want to give too much away about his character but let’s just say that I fully believe Mr. Tophat will become an iconic horror figure in the years to come.

As for the horror itself, though the show may not be scary in terms of the definition imposed on by die-hard horror fans, there are still enough creepy imagery and practical effects to make fans of the show, and genre, happy. One of my favorite scenes happens during episode two where Rachel and Gavin find themselves on one of those Love Boat rides only to then encounter two terrifying skeletons in the water. This immediately reminded me of “The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float” from Season Five of Are You Afraid of the Dark?. I appreciated how this series gave nods to its predecessor but also managed to be uniquely its own, allowing for that perfect relationship to form in order to appease both the new, and older, generations. Furthermore, I loved how the show relied more on practical effects over an abundance of CGI as that helped in making the viewing experience feel much more grounded and realistic.

Overall, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? is one for the books. As a massive fan of the original series, I felt that this interpretation encompassed the spirit of the original while forming its own distinct path. Fans of the original series will be hit with a wave of nostalgia while a new generation will have the chance to finally understand why the original was so important to many of us horror fans. ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? will debut on Friday, Oct. 11 at 7pm (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon with parts two and three to follow Oct. 18, and Oct. 25, respectively. With that said, I now declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. Until next time… pleasant screams…

Shannon McGrew
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