When I was growing up in the ’90s, I would find myself in front of the TV Saturday nights excited for Nickelodeon to play their SNICK line-up. Sure, I was a fan of the animated series The Ren & Stimpy Show, as well as the live-action sketch comedy show, All That, but what really drew my attention every week was the horror series, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?. In 2018, fans had the chance to see the series revived for a new generation, and now after a two-year hiatus, it’s back again with a brand-new season. Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society is my review of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?: CURSE OF THE SHADOWS.
In ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?: CURSE OF THE SHADOWS, an all-new group of Midnight Society kids tell a terrifying tale about a curse that has been cast over their small seaside town, haunted by an all-new villain named the Shadowman.
The premiere episode, titled “The Tale of the Haunted Wood”, takes place in the sleepy, seaside town of Shadow Bay. We are introduced to Connor (Parker Queenan) while he’s in the midst of stealing a mysterious book from the local magic shop. It’s clear that Connor is terrified of…something, and while returning home through the woods, comes face to face with whatever that horror is.
The following morning Luke (Bryce Gheisar) awakes to a slew of missed calls from his best friend, Connor. After trying to get a hold of him, he corrals together the rest of the Midnight Society in hopes that someone will have information on where Connor is located. However, all they are able to piece together is the last location of Connor’s whereabouts: Sardo’s Magic Mansion. It’s there that they meet Mr. Sardo (the name should be familiar to AYAOTD fans) and learn about the Shadowman, an urban legend that just might be more real and dangerous than any of them could imagine.
One of the reasons this episode was so great is partly due to the chemistry of the cast which makes up the Midnight Society. Each character presents a distinct personality trait, ranging anywhere from Jai’s (Arjun Athalye) class clown to Gabby’s (Malia Baker) determination that makes it easy for viewers to find a character to connect and relate with. But even more so than that, their performances are warm and welcoming, making it easy to believe that they genuinely care for one another. Additionally, the group dynamics work great as all the characters could easily play off one another, especially in the case of Hanna (Beatrice Kitsos) and Seth (Dominic Mariche) who play older sister/younger brother, respectively.
I will admit I was hesitant when I saw that Jeff Wadlow (Fantasy Island, Truth or Dare) was serving as executive producer and the primary director for the series. Both films lacked originality and felt haphazard in their execution, which led me to believe that maybe he wasn’t the best fit to tackle bringing this beloved horror series to life. However, at least in the case of the premiere episode, which he directed, he knocked it out of the park and proved this critic wrong. It felt exciting and original, while also keeping me on my toes for the entire length of the episode.
Like his previous work, the episode has a bright, clean color palette to its look and styling. The town of Shadow Bay feels welcoming and homey in its seaside depiction but modern in its approach to the overall aesthetic. However, that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of spookiness for when, the sun begins to set, the forest around the bay begins to come alive as tendrils of fog drift lazily from the outskirts of the forest, beckoning all to walk by to investigate. But even more important than that is you can see an improvement in the way in which he crafts a scare. It doesn’t feel lazily predictable. Instead, it’s filled with wrought tension. One moment, in particular, takes place with a Clap On/Clap Off, which had me wanting to crawl out of my skin in terror. As an adult, that’s a great feeling to experience but it also reminded me of how much ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK? used to terrify me as a kid.
I can’t end this review without talking about the Shadowman for that was one of my favorite things about the episode. Wadlow does a great job of only giving us glimpses of the Shadowman, allowing for both the intrigue and the tension to build. Plus, there’s something more sinister about being aware that something exists right outside your peripheral. When we do get to finally see the Shadowman, it almost resembles that of a Wendigo, with large antler-like protrusions coming from its head. The lack of CGI and the efforts put in to make this look as practical as possible resulted in a creature that is sure to send chills down one’s spine. Add in some quality scares of the Shadowman creeping up on its prey and you have another winning combination.
ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?: THE CURSE OF THE SHADOWS is a horror kid’s dream come true and an enjoyable horror romp for adults. That said, fans of the original series should be on the lookout for a certain giggling item from the ’90s version that has a surprise appearance in the first episode. As much as I enjoyed the first season of this new reimagining, I found the second one to be much darker and unsettling, allowing me to be fully engaged and wanting more by the end of the episode. All that being said, I’m excited to see where the series will go with each new episode to come. Episode 1 of ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?: THE CURSE OF THE SHADOWS is now available to stream on Nickelodeon.
I declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. Until next time…