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Channel Zero: Ugghh, ALMOST good!

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I just finished watching Season 1 of Channel Zero. It came so close. SO CLOSE to being what I want. And then it forcefully aborted.

There are two primary things I expect from any horror story, no matter the medium: A) Interesting paranormal thing that isn’t just a Monster What Kills People and B) The protagonist(s) need to have some level of competency and not-complete-idiocy to them. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. I feel those are relatively reasonable expectations. But for some reason, almost 0 movies or shows have ever managed this. Channel Zero almost made it.

By the way, this is a spoiler-review. You can totally watch the show before continuing, it is a fine work. It just doesn’t fit my criteria, which I’ll talk about more now.

Season 1 of the Show is 6 episodes long and based on the pretty good creepypasta Candle Cove. The show almost completely avoids jumpscares and instead uses long, lingering shots even at the height of any action. During the climax it super clearly references Olivier de Sagazin’s super creepy body art.  There are 3 more seasons planned (each about a different story) with the second probably coming Halloween 2017. Side note: Some of my hopes came from the fact that Max Landis executive produced the show – I have some degree of trust in him. He even once wrote a top-notch SCP, number 2137. I assume most of my problems listed here happened despite, not because of him.

Part A: Interesting Paranormal Thing that isn’t just a Monster What Kills People

The creepypasta Candle Cove has a lot of things that I appreciate: It is about an anomalous, discriminating TV broadcast that is apparently a cognitohazard: Only children can see it, once you grow up you apparently forget you ever saw it. But the people communicating about it during the Creepypasta re-awaken memories of the broadcast by telling each other details. It never becomes clear what the TV Broadcast is for or what else it might have done.

All aspects of the pasta are still true in Channel Zero and the broadcast is very well recreated, down to the details. But Channel Zero sadly also adds a lot of baggage. By the end, it is about a supernatural entity that takes on the forms of multiple very cool looking Monsters, that can teleport and conjure the Candle Cove broadcast on any screen. The show has hypno-suggestive effects on children but not on adults. The monster requires teeth and murder to power some parts of its powers, how and why  and to what degree is never explained. It is helped by a woman who apparently is into all of this and freely murders many, many people. Most of the Monsters never actually do… anything.

All of this of course changes the stakes and the risks in the show. The Creepypasta is just a weird and scary thing that points at the existance of supernatural forces out there – if this exists, you can’t really trust reality as a whole anymore. The Show is about a weird teeth monster that kills and sometimes (but not always) mutilates them, which becomes the main problem for viewers.  So it basically fails on point A after looking very promising at the start!

I would also like to mention how complicated and confusing this setup is. Channel Zero features the anomalous TV show, a Monster that appears in dreams called the Skintaker, the teeth monster, the old lady in a skeleton Costume as well as hypnotized murder children in masks and some variations of the Skintaker that all have their own cool shapes but never amount to anything. That’s a lot. That’s arguably way too many, especially considering they are all kind of part of a single phenomenon.

Part B: Competent or non-idiotic Protagonists

I am really, really starved for this. Outside of the SCP-Wiki and World War Z (Book), this never happens. Never, ever, ever. There is some kind of rule, somewhere in TV and Movie production land, that people have to be fucking idiots in Horror. I don’t know why. Channel Zero starts out super promising on this level too and then fails harder than Loriot fails at righting a picture.

The protagonist of Channel Zero has the problem that he basically knows what is up from the first minute. All his ideas about Candle Cove are correct. Like anyone in a horror movie, he has to overcome the hurdle of: People won’t believe me, I have to convince them somehow. Since he comes into the show straight out of a mental institution, the deck is stacked against him. He is careful about it and doesn’t blabber to just anyone.  This is fine.

Within the first two episodes, two groups of three people form – one of them believes him, one doesn’t. Doubt in the protagonist stops being a problem at some point, which is good. Sadly, around the same time, things get bad. For one, he never capitalizes on the degree of belief he gained. The protagonist could explain things, as far as he understands them. He never does.

And he starts constantly, and I mean like five times, to tell his companions not to follow him while he goes into the dark, abandoned scary place where he has just seen someone enter, where he knows the confirmed murderer lady to be or where he suspects the killer monster. Every single time he either leaves behind a policeperson or someone offering to call the police. This show has almost as much splitting up as scooby doo.

At one point, an adult get surrounded by hypnotized, unresponsive, slow children with knives clearly intent on murder. Instead of grabbing any object, attempting to flee or surprise attacking the children, she just slowly approaches and tries to talk to them. And get stabbed. I have seen white people in infomercials look more competent.

At the climax of the show, protagonist meets antagonist (supernatural murder man), and has a talk with them. They basically make a deal that goes like this: Protagonist’s daughter gets to go free from being kidnapped. Antagonist gets protagonist’s body and protagonist is forever caught in supernatural limbo.

What doesn’t protagonist do? Negotiate. He doesn’t know what antagonist will do with his body. He could literally immediately kill the daughter. Maybe he turns into an undying killing machine. Maybe he is strong enough to start an apocalypse event. Protagonist doesn’t know. Who, when given the option to negotiate with the devil, accepts completely undefined terms that include „I will be trapped in limbo for ever“? He could at least have asked what he is in for!

And none of these are unsolvable problems. Here are some exchanges that do not require any increase in budget, filming time or other production effort:

  • „I’ll come with you in there!“ „No, please. I think if you follow, we will just find empty rooms. And I think it doesn’t want me dead. Please call police reinforcements – if I am not back in 15 minutes, send them after me.“
  • „Wait, kids, what are you doing? Don’t come closer!“ [Grabs the closest heavy object, like a brass lamp, and backs against the wall. Tries to put up a fight, but the children do not even recoil from damage and unflinchingly swarm and murder her]
  • „Okay, listen. I have an explanation for all this but it is weird. I understand it will sound like I am crazy. Will you promise to consider that I might be right and just have a contingency plan for it?“ [But they are dealing with a supernatural, teleporting teeth-monster. Even with the police informed, they have no chance]

You know what I find scary? A threat that is still dangerous if nobody has to stumble while fleeing or slowly walk into dark buildings without checking their back. A threat that is still dangerous if you bring the police. A threat that is still dangerous if you know it is coming. Candle Cove (the creepypasta) is all of that. Channel Zero could have been that. This was a prime chance. They just chose not to take it.

By the way, how does it compare with Stranger Things?

So comparing it to the other recent short horror show prominently featuring children is obvious, right? Stranger Things clearly has a several-multiples larger budget. Channel Zero has a very basic, non-amazing score, rarely uses really cool visuals or superb lighting and keeps special effects to a minimum. I don’t really care. Having all these things would be nice of course, but points A and B are what I care about and neither requires any of these points. Stranger Things has all of them and still only managed a story about a Monster That Kills People vs. Mewtwo.

One „mistake“ that both make (I am sure there are some good, very much primarily financial decisions that explain this) is that they are both about 50% too long. Whenever Channel Zero or Stranger Things get interesting, the thing that usually happens is that the episode is over and the next one starts back at excitement level 0 and needs the entire episode to return to it. Have you ever considered to just… just not do that? Like, just stay at high alert?

I’m just a single science bird writing things into the internet. But we have already reached a world where a TV show is explicitly using some very good creepypastas to make something new. Maybe we can also at some point reach a world where the worst thing in the stories isn’t that stupid people keep getting killed.

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Written by vetaro

3. August 2017 um 6:14 am

Veröffentlicht in Uncategorized

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