TWO SENTENCE HORROR STORIES
EPISODE 1: GENTLEMAN & EPISODE 2: SQUIRM
Starring: Nicole Kang, Jim Parrack in “Gentleman”
Tara Pacheco, Christopher Shyer in “Squirm”
Directors: Natalia Iyudin (Gentleman), Vera Miao (Squirm)
Writers: C.S. McMullen (Gentleman), Vera Miao (Squirm)
Production Company: Stage 13, Warner Bros
Distribution: The CW
“Every baby needs a family. A perfect one.”
[This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.]
Horror anthologies are back in vogue. Hulu has Into the Dark, CBS All Access has The Twilight Zone (2019), Netflix has Black Mirror, and although not all its entries are of the horror genre, Amazon has Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. Whereas each episode in the aforementioned anthologies is a self-contained story, some anthologies tell theirs over the course of a season. These include FX’s American Horror Story, AMC’s The Terror and Netflix’s The Haunting. And there are no signs of a slowdown. Announced and already in various stages of the production process are Shudder’s Creepshow, Amazon’s Them, and Apple’s Amazing Stories. The most recent addition to this growing list is Two Sentence Horror Stories (2019).
Two Sentence Horror Stories is an interesting concept. Like Creepy Pasta, it’s the result of online contributors — this time from Reddit. There are several rules, the most obvious being that the story can be no longer than two sentences. That’s it. Though the quality across the entries vary, most share one thing: they’re ambiguous about the events that happen between the two sentences. It is the imagination of the reader that fills in this gap. Whatever scary, macabre, or gory elements they see fit, they use. That’s the real magic. Every reader creates a unique fleshed-out horror story. But once a writer or director gets their hands on it, it is their interpretation that viewers end up with. Will audiences be satisfied?
Each of the episodes in Two Sentence Horror Stories begins by posting the first of the two sentences. Purposefully vague, it entices and arouses viewer curiosity. The story then unfolds and the second sentence is posted at the end. It’s only been two episodes, but it works exceedingly well.
With only 20 minutes to tell the story, no time is wasted. The episode dives into the main plot without hesitation or long drawn out introductions. It evolves quickly, tightly, and it’s hard hitting. Not only is it effective in addressing the theme with clarity but also there are enough horror elements to satisfy the most stringent fans. The psychological horror alone is terrifying, but the ick factor just makes these fun to watch.
Episode 1: “Gentleman”
In the first episode, “Gentleman,” a man and woman meet up for coffee after finding one another on a dating app. A few dates later, it quickly becomes apparent that the man, Ken (Jim Parrack, True Blood) has a weird obsession with single new mothers. It’s no surprise that it doesn’t work out, but he doesn’t get the message and begins stalking her. But, as with many of these kinds of stories, not everything is as it seems.
What stood out in this episode is its ability to tackle social issues with such efficacy and clarity. Online dating is filled with potential benefits, but it can also be dangerous. One never knows who is at the other end of the internet connection. And “Gentleman” plays up these fears masterfully. If that wasn’t enough, the episode also addresses the pressures of having children.
Hana (Nicole Kang, You, The Feels) tells Ken that she’s tried having children for some time before finally succeeding. But her relationship ended as a result. It’s a sad situation, but it leads to her meeting Ken. She’s touched by his attention (which is piqued only when he finds out she’s a new mother). This validation and interest make her happy. Heck, even her manager behaves attentively when dating and motherhood are addressed. This imposed social pressure in order to fit in undoubtedly has a dark side, something that is explored in this episode.
Episode 2: “Squirm”
“Squirm,” the second episode, begins with a workplace celebration during which Keisha (Tara Pacheco, Happy!, The Goldfinch) indulges in too much alcohol. She wakes up the next morning in her apartment with no recollection of the previous night’s events. However, she finds a handwritten note whose author states they have left something inside of her. The implication is obvious as she immediately believes to have been raped.
Without her memory, this simplest of suggestions drives Keisha to desperately unearth the truth. She itches to find out what is inside her. What follows are 15 minutes of pure psychological body horror and madness. Essentially, it’s a study of the harsh effects of date rapes. Keisha, consumed by fear, anger, and shame, ultimately becomes numb to her reality. Her financial desperation and employer’s callous reaction aggravate her condition. And, though the resolution is cathartic, it’s cringe-inducing.
The character development in both of these episodes is impressive. Barely any background information is given about the main character, yet they seem familiar. As we watch them during these few minutes, we quickly come to sympathize with them. Their pain, their horror, their desperation, their broken lives — these are better portrayed here than in characters with feature-length runtime. The anxieties and fears used to tell the stories ring true, especially in the context of this new social media-driven society. People are connected, yet they seem lonelier than ever.
Two Sentence Horror Stories is off to an outstanding start. Not only have the stories been enthralling and terrifying, but they’ve also tackled serious social issues. Technology, inequality, sexism, and workplace power imbalance have been addressed. Using the horror genre gives directors more tools to make an impact with their message. The 20 minutes of runtime helps keep the plot tight and succinct. The stories flow smoothly, and the endings include slight twists while ensuring proper retribution.
With only two entries released, it’s hard to judge whether Two Sentence Horror Stories, as an anthology, will be successful. Quality is likely to vary with different writers and directors. But so far, the show has shown quality and promise. It’s fun and scary. And, like the old Lay’s commercial tantalized us with, I betcha you won’t be able to stop yourself from watching just one!