Channel Zero's Season Premiere on Syfy Mixes Horror, Nostalgia, and a Tooth Monster
Jawbone will grind your skin between his teeth. It's cool though. He's from a kid's show!
Syfy's Channel Zero brings an original horror series to the network. The first episode infuses the CreepyPasta shortstory "Candle Cove" with a bit of new narrative to flesh out a plot that can fill an entire season. While it may be a tad confusing at times, Channel Zero delivers a haunting story that awakens a sense of nostalgia in the viewer.
The opening episode centers around a child psychologist and author named Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) who heads back to his childhood home to re-investigate the death of his twin brother and other children during the '80s. All of these murders seems to revolve around a children's television program called Candle Cove, which only aired for a few months. As the season premiere moves forward, not everything is as it seems because there are darker forces at play.
While many fans may see horror as jump-scares and pointless startles, Channel Zero delivers its horror through tone and visually disturbing moments, without becoming akin to something viewers would see in the Saw franchise. It plays on haunting imagery that viewers may connect to something from their past, mainly creepy kid's television shows.
Candle Cove is the Land of Make Believe from Mister Roger's Neighborhood with mildly murderous dialogue, which will sit with you for the entirety of the episode. The children's show features puppets on a pirate ship, and it just feels wrong to watch because there's this underlying evil within its narrative. Channel Zero plays well to the idea that there are things on television we saw as children that disturbed us or gave us nightmares. It ends up being a nice backbone to the story and helps establish the tone for the episode.
Candle Cove isn't the only thing haunting about this episode though. As you may have seen in some of the trailers for the series, there's also a monster completely made of teeth lurking around. While who or what this creature is isn't something made abundantly clear by the end of the season premiere, you get a strong idea of what it has to do with the overall story. Once again, this is a visually haunting character. It will stick with the audience after their first viewing.
What really adds to the horror in this premiere is the soundtrack and audio of the overall episode. There is lots of audio jumping back and forth between the left and right during some sinister moments, and Channel Zero adds a lot of unnerving background tracks during these times like a fly buzzing around and the whine of a television. Using a surround sound system or headphones really adds to the mood while watching the show.
While Candle Cove is the backbone to the story, the focus is on the mystery of a group of children dying during the late '80s, including Eddie, Mike's twin brother. This story jumps between the present, with Mike trying to get more information about Candle Cove from his old friends, and flashback sequences where we learn that Eddie was going through some bizarre changes that are somehow tied to the children's television show.
This is where Channel Zero falters a little bit. The cuts between present-day and the past come out of nowhere, with no warning. When this happens, it later becomes apparent that what the audience is seeing are flashbacks, but since these flashbacks don't have visual or audio cues to separate themselves from what's happening in the present, it's jolting and disrupts the overall flow of the story. It leads to confusion, and it's unsure whether or not that's intentional, to throw the viewer off from what's really happening.
Like most pilot episodes, one of the problems is always going to be that the show tries to deliver way too much in a short amount of time. Channel Zero tries to introduce the viewer to Mike, all while adding to a present day story of Mike returning to his childhood home. There are quite a few present-day characters thrown into the mix as well and a whole lot more characters from Mike's past. It's quite a bit to keep up with, but this problem is nothing out of the ordinary for a season premiere or pilot.
Channel Zero's season premiere is a very solid start. The show takes a wonderfully haunting online story and sculpts something that's one-part horror and one-part mystery that's engaging and alluring. While the show does have some minor problems with pacing and jolting the viewer from their suspension of disbelief, the debut offering does give the viewer some lingering, spooky moments that will stick with them hours and days after viewing. Did we mention there's a monster made entirely of teeth?
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