TV Review: Are You Afraid of the Dark? Ghost Island
I can confidently say that as a youngling there were three things in my life that made me the horror fan I am now as a grown-upling. The Universal Monsters film franchise, RL Stine’s Goosebumps books, and the TV series Are You Afraid of the Dark?. As a Saturday night ritual I joined the Midnight Society around the fire (not literally of course) as scary stories were exchanged. In recent years we have seen revival of this property in a fun new way with a collection of mini-series’ focusing on new collections of the Midnight Society being thrust into supernatural events in the real world. As an adult I have found this to be fantastic as not only do they give me a nostalgia kick but also gives Are You Afraid of the Dark? a fresh new spin. This summer we have seen the latest series in this relaunch in the form of Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Ghost Island that may be the best thus far.
After the death of her twin sister, and leader of this incarnation of the Midnight Society, Kayla and the others have put a halt to their sharing of scary tales. Hoping to clear their heads the crew ventures to an island getaway at a prestigious hotel. While the beaches and service are great, what they know this hotspot for are the plethora of ghost stories it is known for. They soon learn that not only is all the supernatural activity on the island real but that it is all centered around the mysterious Room 13 and the mirror within it. As they unravel the secrets of the hotel and a young woman who lost everything centuries before the inn’s manager continuous to get involved and questions arise as to whether or not he can be trusted.
It is clear that showrunner JT Billings and director Dean Israelite clearly understand the oddly wide age range of those watching AYAOTD?: Ghost Island. True, there were the young viewers who are the main demographic of Nickelodeon watchers, but there were also adults who had grown up with the series. This leads to a tightrope walk that they manage to navigate to perfection striking the perfect balance of a show that plays to both groups. It is the ideal balance of teen drama and genuine horror show. The teenage cast of characters are definitely teens, they are overconfident to a fault and tend to add unnecessary drama to the situation. This may lead to old-heads like me to scoff at out protagonists but this is how people in that age group act. While the lead character Kayla is not the most dynamic she does her job well and she gets support from the other Midnight Society members being incredibly charming and fun. Chance Hurtstfield in particular proves to be a scene-stealer as the character of Ferris.
On the scary-front is where AYAOTD?: Ghost Island truly shines as the series does not hold back. While the original series was made for younger viewers and largely tailored the scares that way, there were some episodes that provided nightmare-fuel that still sticks with us. This is what you will find in Ghost Island as Dean Israelite does not shy away from the scarier elements. This is made perfectly clear in the opening minutes of the series when a struggling single mother her newborn and toddler become the first victims of the supernatural force at the center of things. While there is a fun and sunny vibe when needed, when it comes time for the fear it is like a dreary suspenseful blanket drapes over everything. The dimly lit hallways where the spirits of those who have vanished throughout the hotel’s history wander proves to be a pure playground of spookiness that is bound to make many viewers anxious whenever it is onscreen. Israelite has a true talent for crafting suspense and atmosphere as a director that makes me want to see him do more with the horror genre especially in gateway horror.
With the ability to appeal to both kids and adults in equal measure Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Ghost Island may be the strongest story arc since the revival of the series. The series may be intended for a younger audience but well-crafted scares and fun Easter eggs from the original series are definitely there for those of us of from the SNICK generation. It is further proof that a good solidly told ghost story can appeal to people from any walk of life.