The 2019 revival of Are You Afraid of the Dark? was nothing short of a love letter not just for fans of the original series but for horror aficionados as well. While each episode was basically a living gallery of horror references primed for hungry fans, it was the focus on character-development, carried by stellar performances from its cast, that made it shatter expectations. The same thing happens in the opening to the second season of the famed kids’ horror show and it already feels like it’s worthy of the name it carries.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Curse of the Shadows sees a new Midnight Society immediately faced with darkness as one of their members goes missing. A strange entity known as the Shadowman seems to be behind it; a full make-up creation that is shown just enough for viewers to appreciate the kind of terror it can muster up.
A spell book, a magic store, and a curse lie at the center of the story thus far and it looks like things will get worse before they get any better for the Midnight Society as the search pulls them further into the Shadowman’s domain. The setup is simple, familiar, and effective, which allows the episode to hit the ground running.
Haunted woods and strange lighthouses color the mystery driving the narrative and they help keep things clear and easy to follow. They’re recognizable, well-worn elements and ideas that anyone should be able to easily pick up to get a hint at what’s potentially just around the corner. What makes this sense of familiarity work lies in how well the new cast carries the torch of the Midnight Society.
This iteration of the Midnight Society is composed of a group of kids that have little time to settle into the horror. They have to sell their concern for their missing member from just a few minutes into the episode, so there’s a lot riding on their performances. Thankfully, the kids are all up to the task.
The main character, called Luke, is played by Bryce Gheisar, and he is perfectly cast as the leader of the pack who also carries his own sense of guilt over the disappearance. He comes off as relatable and smart, someone who plays well with others. He’s decisive but diplomatic, not the lone wolf/angsty kind of kid these stories sometimes rely too much on.
Beatrice Kitsos is another standout from the group. She plays the role of Hanna Romero (perhaps a wink at the great George Romero, the father of modern zombie horror), a dedicated environmentalist that acts as the Midnight Society’s most logically minded member. Her intensity helps keep each scene she’s in fairly tense and her interventions further cement her as a key player in the solution to the mystery.
Each performance is lively and surprisingly nuanced, making the first episode feel appropriately profound and storied. Malia Baker, who plays Gabby, acts as a kind of second leader with the ability to keep the group emotionally anchored. Arjun Athalye, on the other hand, plays Jai, the group’s comedic center. He keeps any situation from becoming overwhelmingly serious, but I was glad to see he can also recognize the gravity of the situation so as to no just be a joke machine that cuts through the tension. He’s smartly written. Given the speed at which the kids arrive at the problem of their missing friend, it’s important viewers get the chance to know each character well very early on and the episode delivers.
Ryan Beil deserves special mention as Sardo the Magician, a character that indulges in some masterful storytelling of his own. His part in the story remains to be seen, but some things do point to him popping up more than once in the 5 remaining episodes of the season.
Fans of the original series will recognize the character of Sardo, maybe leading them to think the AYAOTD universe will see more old haunts making an appearance further down the line. There are also a few other easter eggs strewn around. Some are easier to catch, while others might require connecting a few dots together to get the full reference. Future episodes should follow suit, so be on the lookout.
If it isn’t obvious by now, the acting is what did it for me in the first episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Season 2. Plot-wise, I’m hoping for a bit more complexity, more moving parts. The first season excelled in that regard and presented a lot of more threads during its first episode than this one. To be fair, Season 1 consisted of 3 episodes. Season 2 guns for 6. The missing kid angle does have plenty of places it can go to, so it’s all a matter of sticking with the story.
The extra time Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Curse of the Shadows possesses feels like the special ingredient that will guarantee more than a few surprises throughout the journey. What’s already guaranteed is the quality of its performances, the kind of which brings us back for more scares. Fans of the previous season and the original series should feel right at home here.