This Isn’t Real: Channel Zero Mid-Season Review

If you’re a horror fan, you might have already heard about Channel Zero. It’s SyFy’s horror anthology show than launched last year with the 6-episode story, “Candle Cove,” which was based on the internet creepypasta of the same name.

This season’s story (also 6 episodes) is called “The No-End House,” and, as you’d imagine, it is Channel Zero‘s take on the classic haunted house trope. Personally, I love this particular trope in horror, and I don’t think there are enough well-done haunted house stories out there.

A modern classic is, of course, The Shining, by Stephen King, which was brilliant. American Horror Story, the horror anthology series on FX, opened its run with “Murder House” its first season, which was a classic haunted house story. The “Asylum” season in 2012 was a framed haunted house story (and my favorite AHS season ever), though I would argue that the story of what happened historically in the asylum was the real thrust of the storyline, and not the haunting itself.

As of this writing, we’re three episodes into Channel Zero‘s “The No-End House” season, which means we’re about halfway through. A group of friends has begun receiving weird videos via their phones (and other electronic media) that eventually culminates in an address. The No-End House does this with some frequency according to the Internet, says one of the friends. Its appearance is always prefaced by videos and other strange message-type events that eventually lead people to where the house has appeared.

The house has six rooms and it’s rumored that those who make it to the sixth room don’t return. There’s also the weirdness that everyone who does come out tells of entirely different rooms, when they’ll talk about it at all (most won’t).

Jules, Seth, JD, & Margot

Our group of four friends is comprised of Margot, who is dealing with the death of her father; Jules, Margot’s best friend, who went away to college without Margot and is back on a break; JD, their nerdy childhood friend who seems to be crushing on Jules; and Seth, a guy Margot meets earlier in the evening when they’re all shooting pool at a bar.

WARNING: Spoilers below.

Since we’re only a few episodes in, I don’t think these will be huge spoilers (because we basically don’t know very much yet), and I’ll refrain from sharing the one or two revelations that do happen during these episodes. But please do be warned that I’ll be talking about plot a bit. Also, as a note, I’m leaving a lot of things out (such as Dylan, who is returning to the house to rescue his wife, who got stuck inside).

What I Liked

When talking about any story in any sort of medium, the thing I’m always drawn the most strongly to are the characters and their relationships. Margot and Jules seem to have a typical high school/college best friend type relationship initially, but we learn as time goes on that it’s much more complicated. The death of Margot’s dad affected their relationship in ways neither of them expected, and they’re both struggling to deal with. This creates a ton of tension between them that was well-concealed (by both) in the early scenes of the show.

I also loved the premise of the traveling haunted house. It’s got shades of Something Wicked This Way Comes (perhaps one of my favorite scary books), in that we know it’s evil, and we know that there is nothing good that is going to come of these kids going in there. But they’re going to go in there anyway. And as they enter the house, thinking it’s going to be a fun and silly experience, tension crawls under the viewer’s skin, because we know better.

Beware the cannibals.

“Beware the Cannibals” is painted on the doorway of, I believe, the first room. While I had this figured out by episode two, I found it an interesting little bit of foreshadowing. I like it when foreshadowing is realized and then leaves additional questions that we hope will be solved by the end of the story. The big question I have here is “Are the cannibals separate beings that live within the house, or are they the house itself, manifest?”

Things I Didn’t Love As Much

So this is where we’re going to have a couple bigger spoilers, but I’ll try to keep it as general as possible.

Room One

As mentioned, the premise of the house is that people have to go through six rooms. We go through the first five rooms very quickly and I have to say, I was somewhat disappointed. Room One was really creepy and set a very good stage, making it really clear that something weird is going on, though most of the characters don’t see it yet (though they should, if they thought about it). But Room Two, while it was supposed to be the super scariest room, so far really fell flat for me. We get a guy who looks like a mashup of Groot and The Gentlemen from Buffy (“Hush“). And this guy has good creep potential, but he just doesn’t freak me out at all in the scene.

Room Two

He shoves JD (which really made it seem like he’s just a bully — I think this is where it went badly for me), whispers something to Margot (which turns out to include a nickname her dad used to have for her), and then, when the lights go out for three seconds, he apparently grabs a random guy in the group and drags him out leaving a bloody trail and handprints that show the guy was trying to crawl away as he was being dragged. And the bloody trail disappears into the wall.

This could have been scary, terrifying even, but, for me at least, it really missed the mark. It just didn’t make sense. The entire point of the house is that people are supposed to make it to the sixth room and that’s where the house eats them or whatever. It’s people who make it to the sixth room who don’t come back. Why kill someone in the second room? It’s okay that it happens this way, it just has to make sense in the world that’s built. And it doesn’t. At least not yet. I’m hoping they come through with some explanation. Otherwise, it feels as if it’s just there to scare the viewer, rather than having a purpose within the greater story.

Breakfast anyone?

The team gets separated and each travels through rooms Three through Five. I felt like these rooms went by very quickly and were, mostly, disappointing. I didn’t find any of them particularly horrifying, though Margot’s Room Five was kind of creepy.

Reunited outside after getting through Room Five, Margot and Jules go back to Margot’s house and find her dad not only alive, but cooking breakfast. Jules is the first to work out that they didn’t actually leave the No-End House, but are now in Room Six.

All of the above (and a little bit more) happens in the first two episodes. The third episode slows down considerably and is mainly about everyone getting on the same page about trying to figure out how to get out of the house — which requires finding it first. I felt like it slowed down a lot, because, really, they know the house has six rooms, so they should know they’re not outside of it yet. All the time they spend in the third episode of everyone getting on the same page seems like a waste, because they all should have already been on the same page.

I didn’t talk about Jules’s interactions with her Room Five and the house, but I think it has a lot of interesting potential.

Final Thoughts

I think if you’re not a big horror reader or viewer, there will likely be a lot of scary and interesting twists and turns in this show. But if you are an avid horror buff, I suspect it might be a little disappointing. I think it tries. I just don’t think it lands as well as it could land. Like the first season, I’m a little bit disappointed. I hope they can pull it off before the end. If they don’t, I likely won’t watch season three.

Are you watching Channel Zero? What do you think?

All images are courtesy of SyFy.

7 Comments

  • nuyangwriter October 12, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    I didn’t watch Candle Cove, but I love No-End House. I agree that the first two episodes really drew me in and by the third week (and even the episode that aired last night), everything had really slowed down. I think that’s strange for a series that only airs six episodes. Overall, it’s super creepy and it has the right kind of dreadful atmosphere. I really like the actors too especially John Carroll Lynch who plays the father.

    Reply
    • Venessa Giunta October 13, 2017 at 12:54 am

      I agree with you on the actors. I think they’re all spot on. I adore Aisha Lee. I watch the Bold Type on Hulu and just fell in love with that actress. She’s wonderful.

      And yes, I don’t get why they didn’t spread the previous rooms out a bit in time. I haven’t watched last night’s episode yet (likely won’t get to til Sunday), but it’s been so slow going. I’m really bummed about that. I hope it picks up before the end.

      Reply
  • Lane Robins October 12, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Are you familiar with the creepypasta this is based on? I’m wondering if the lack of scares is something lost in the translation or if it was just never that scary to begin with? I am tempted by these though I think the first season looked more appealing to me.

    Reply
    • Venessa Giunta October 13, 2017 at 12:56 am

      I didn’t know anything about the creepypasta prior to the show, so I don’t really know if it was any different. I liked the first series in some ways, but I just found the ending a bit disappointing. It was worth the watch.

      Reply
  • Shara White October 12, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    I didn’t realize this was an anthology series, which even if one season was a bust, I’d be inclined to check out the next season regardless just to see how it differs. I’m definitely more curious about this show now that I know it’s an anthology series that focuses on a particular arc each season. And, not being familiar with the creepypasta stories, I’ll probably — maybe? — be more engaged by the stories presented?

    Reply
    • Venessa Giunta October 13, 2017 at 1:02 am

      That’s sort of my thinking too with watching this second season. But at the same time, if I end up disappointed here, I probably won’t watch the third. I can handle the occasional bad season, but 2/2? Nope. I don’t have time to waste on shows that can’t pull it out.

      AHS’s first season was really good and the second season was amazing. After that, I find them to be hit or miss (I really didn’t like Roanoke especially) and with varying degrees of quality story. So because I know they can be incredible, I will keep coming back to AHS.

      This is Channel Zero’s last shot with me 😉 There are too many good shows out there to waste time on one that has a low batting average.

      Reply
      • Shara White October 13, 2017 at 9:32 am

        Ah, I didn’t realize season one was also a strike-out with you! Fair enough!

        And you’re spot on with AHS. Everything has been hit-or-miss since Asylum, though I enjoyed Roanoke more than you, it seems. This season? I don’t even know what to make of it.

        Reply

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