Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Two Sentence Horror Stories, now on CW

The verbose Stephen King remains the top horror dog of our era, but brevity made a comeback via the backdoor of the internet. Think of these creepy couplets as the cat videos of horror. As the phenomenon took hold, it inspired Vera Maio’s anthology horror series, which makes the jump from internet distribution to legit network broadcast when the second season of Two Sentence Horror Stories premieres this Thursday on the CW.

So-called “Two Sentence Horror Stories” generally follow the same formula: the first phrase sets the macabre mood and the second delivers the ironic punch. Miao stays true to the format, starting each installment story with the first sentence and then closing with the kicker. Season one was stronger and more consistent than most anthologies, so it is rather nice to see it get the major league call-up.

However, the first two stories (or first four sentences) supplied to the media are already more of a hit-or-miss proposition than the entire first season. The opener, “Gentleman” directed by Natalia Iyudin, is disappointingly conventional. Great efforts are made to exploit themes of motherhood for the sake of provocation, but the big twist is conspicuously obvious from early on. Nevertheless, Nicole Kang is so compelling as Hana, she almost sells it anyway.

In contrast, “Squirm” written and directed by Miao is seriously unsettling. It also addresses issues of workplace harassment (technically, something far worse happens in this case) in a bold, unflinching way that could make it a trending topic, much like the “Replay” episode of Jordan Peele’s rebooted Twilight Zone. It begins during an office holiday party in full swing, but when Kiesha wakes up the next morning, the horror hits her with full force.

Tara Pacheco makes Keisha’s descent into paranoia and body horror completely believable and deeply distressing to watch. However, the rest of the supporting ensemble is equally important keeping us off-balance and distrusting nearly all her colleagues. Plus, Paul Yee (who lensed The Fits) vividly reflects Keisha’s agitated perspective with his darkly disorienting cinematography.

It is not often genre fans can follow a project from pilot at Tribeca to an online success, culminating in a broadcast pick-up, so you have to give Miao credit for perseverance. “Squirm” and four out of the five first season stories are also really good television, so hopefully it will stick around for a while. Recommended for genre fans, Two Sentence Horror Stories premieres this Thursday (8/8) on the CW.