Friday, January 08, 2021

Two Sentence Horror Stories: Bag Man & Elliot

High school is the ultimate horror mainstay. From Carrie to Scream, there have probably been more horror movies and TV series set within the halls of secondary education than drafty Euro castles. The tradition continues with the two-for season premiere of Vera Miao’s Two Sentence Horror Stories, airing this coming Tuesday on the CW.

“Bag Man,” directed by Kimani Ray Smith and written by Leon Hendrix and Miao is definitely the better of the two stories, in part because it obviously starts as a genre homage to the
Breakfast Club. Five students of varying social status must spend Saturday morning in detention, but there is a very contemporary wrinkle. All are suspects in a cherry bomb incident that triggered the school’s new automated lock-down system. When they arrive, there is already a mysterious bag in the room that just radiates bad vibes.

Admittedly, the narrative follows a familiar horror arc, but the execution is brisk and energetic. Hendrix and Miao come up with enough new, ironic wrinkles to keep it interesting for experienced genre viewers and the cast hits the right notes, especially Doralynn Mui as Zee, the catty “good girl.” Having recurred on
Riverdale and guested on Sabrina, this must be pretty comfortable terrain for her.) Regardless, even though we know where it is all headed, it is still a macabrely amusing ride.

The titular bullied transmasculine teen of “Elliot,” written by Stephanie Adams-Santos and directed by Chase Joynt (who also helmed the upcoming Billy Tipton doc) could relate to movies like
Carrie, Sleepaway Camp, and more recently Some Kind of Hate, but at times this episode risks becoming an afterschool special. The lesson is laid on rather heavily, but there are still some creepy moments, especially down the stretch.

Happily (for scare junkies), Janet Kidder is enormously unsettling as the strange janitor, who also preys on Elliot (earnestly portrayed by James Goldman), in a very different way. Plus, you have to give credit for such prominent use of the ocarina, but the instrument can be heard in
Legend of Zelda games and seen in Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z movies, so maybe it resonates with young kids these days.

“Bag Man” is all kinds of fun, while “Elliot” also has its moments. Yet, both reflect the distinctive tone Miao set for the series, beyond the commitment to diversity. It is that eerie atmosphere that makes the series’ return for a new season (the second on the CW, but the third if you count its first life on go90, whatever that was) so welcome. Off to a pretty good start,
Two Sentence Horror Stories is still recommended for fans of horror anthologies when the season premiere airs this coming Tuesday (1/12), on the CW.