SYFY's horror anthology Channel Zero returns with No-End House, a stronger, scarier series that cements anthology's place in horror television.
Last year, before it "rebooted," SYFY launched the horror anthology series Channel Zero, beginning with Candle Cove. From creator and showrunner Nick Antosca, the series aimed to create six-hour stories based on or adapted from some of the most popular creepypasta stories lurking on the internet. The result was an unnerving six-episode season of television that the network liked enough it made sure the series would be around through at season 4. And while details on what's to come are trickling out slowly, the series is back with its second season Channel Zero: No-End House, a stronger, scarier season of television that validates SYFY's continued confidence in Antosca and the television horror factory he's built.
Adapted from the creepypasta of the same name by Brian Alan Russell, No-End House is described by Antosca as a "suburban nightmare," which, after the first episode 'This Isn't Real' is certainly an apt description. Essentially a haunted house story with a twist, No-End House puts a dark spin on pop-up art installations by turning this particular one into a malevolent force that at first piques the interest of bored suburban teens before turning their world upside down, sometimes in frighteningly emotionally manipulative ways. The story centers on Margot Sleator (Amy Forsyth), a college student still mourning the abrupt passing of her father John (John Carroll Lynch) some time ago. Margot's in search of a break from both her grief and the discontent of being a young adult unsure of the road ahead, and reluctantly agrees to accompany her friends in touring the infamous No-End House attraction that literally popped up in their neighborhood overnight.
Much of 'This Isn't Real' is weighted toward necessary exposition, and as written by Antosca and directed by Steven Piet, the hour manages to handle explaining the circumstances of No-End House and Margot's situation without getting bogged down to the point that it grinds the story to a halt. In fact, the hour moves surprisingly fast. The legend of No-End House is expounded upon succinctly, mostly through the nervous excitement of one of the teens, so that when Margot and her friends, Jules (Aisha Dee) and J.D. (Seamus Patterson), finally work up the courage to enter the house and wander through its legendary six rooms, an appropriate amount of tension has already been established. Season director Piet begins building nervy energy around the house early on with a brutal cold open and later when the slow walk up the street to the titular domicile is bracketed by those who've apparently undertaken the dare and have come away shaken – some in tears, some vomiting in the streets.
Like Candle Cove, No-End House excels at creating an atmosphere of dread and sustaining that over a six-hour period. Channel Zero is not in it for cheap jump scares or flashes of gore (although there is some unnerving violence during the teens' walkthrough of the house and again in the second episode), so if that's the kind of "horror" you're looking for, you might do best to look elsewhere. For those who are interested in a series that thrives on establishing an unnerving ambiance and staying there for a prolonged period of time, however, will find a lot to like about No-End House.
Much of what's unnerving about the series stems from the idea of the supernatural lurking within what is essentially a pop-up art installation that first loosens its victims grip on reality by taking them through a series of increasingly unnerving exhibits – some seemingly performance based – before separating each individual and preying upon his or her worst fear. As Margot, Jules, J.D. and Seth (Jeff Ward) make their way through the exhibits, No-End House begins culling its potential story threads until its left with the one it intends to focus on for the remaining five episodes of the season. That is: Margot's relationship with her deceased dad, which takes a wild turn at the end of the premiere when it seems as though John has miraculously been resurrected and is blissfully unaware he may have ever been dead. It doesn't take long to surmise, as Margot soon does, that her exit from the No-End House wasn't as cut and dry as she presumed.
As with Candle Cove, No-End House faces a challenge in essentially crafting a long-form story out of something that designed for quick consumption. The appeal of creepypastas is not just their unnerving nature, but also their relative brevity. Though it's considerably longer than Candle Cove and follows an entirely different kind of structure, No-End House, as written by Brian Russell, can be consumed swiftly – which works to its advantage as it leaves the reader in a state of unease, often without answers or a conclusion. Channel Zero has to channel (sorry) that energy across several hours, which requires an expansion of the story in question, including world-building and character development. As such, No-End House puts most of its energy in Margot's experience following her unsettling tour of the house.
It is a bit of a gamble, taking a haunted house story and using the typical setting as merely the impetus for the rest of the narrative, but Antosca and Piet manage to pull it off by expanding beyond the confines of sub-genre's eponymous venue to explore a suburban reality distorted into an unremitting bad dream.
Beyond the new narrative, though, the premiere makes clear that Channel Zero learned a great deal from the production of Candle Cove, as No-End House immediately registers as a more confident and visually ambitious production, one that creates aims to create a viewing experience that's remarkably unlike what came before. As anthologies continue to rise in popularity, Channel Zero seems to be bucking the trend of connectivity between seasons (or installments) by offering viewers what is essentially a brand new show. That equals a series that's stronger and scarier in its new season, one that can stake a claim as the most unsettling horror program on TV at the moment.
Channel Zero: No-End House continues next Wednesday with 'Nice Neighborhood' @ 10pm on SYFY.