Channel Zero: Candle Cove (Syfy, 2016)
I don’t remember where I first discovered Creepypasta or which one was my first. What I remember is that fearful exhilaration recalled from my childhood cracking open Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Short, sweet bursts of dread and horror. Horror cinema has attempted to capture that sense of growing unease with mixed returns and recently mainstream horror films have found themselves in a conceptual rut, churning out the same staccatoed jump scares over and over again. Creepypasta (or NoSleep) are not a new invention, but a remixing of the stories told around the campfire. At their best, they incorporate aspects of modern life into their horrors. With Candle Cove, the horror is that of nostalgia.
Mike Painter is a renowned child psychologist who has a deep trauma in his past. His hometown of Iron Hill was the sight of gruesome child murders in 1988, with one victim being Mike’s twin brother Eddie. As an adult, Mike is suffering from a mental breakdown and believe that returning to Iron Hill and confronting his past will help heal the wounds. Instead, he is welcomed back by something long forgotten: Candle Cove, a cheaply produced pirate-themed puppet show for kids. Mike and his now-grown childhood friends all remember these strange broadcasts that popped up and then faded away that bloody summer of 1988. A connection begins to form between this ominous show and the unsolved killings that bring Mike face to face with disturbing and mind-shattering horrors.
Candle Cove was directed by Craig William Macneill who made The Boy, an atmospheric and subtle horror film I previously reviewed. One of the strongest aspects of Candle Cove is slow, paced cinematography. I can’t recall any jump scares, and Macneil prefers the dread and tension built by a slow pan to reveal. Landscapes are broken down and large rural industrial spaces, signs of life that aren’t there any longer. The camera begins distant in many scenes and slowly zooms and pans to reveal small figures moving across grassy fields near the edges of woods. The camera peers around corners of quiet living rooms, children sitting in the blue glow of staticky televisions.
The acting in Candle Cove is restrained, not quite to the point of the stoic absurdity of Wes Anderson but not too far. Character react in stunned silence; no one breaks down in hysteric screams or tears. This one little touch adds to the eeriness and terror of the story. It also feels more real, how people, when confronted with unimaginable horror, can do nothing but stand in silence in awe of it.
The horror of Candle Cove is the horror of nostalgia and remembrance. Mike Painter is the most haunted character in the story because he remembers what happened while the other citizens of Iron Hill have chosen to forget. When Candle Cove is discussed, it sparks memories in his friends, but it remains a pale and fragmented ghost. For Mike, Candle Cove revisits him as vivid, realistic nightmares. In his dreams, the monsters can hurt him and so memories are dangerous. It is only by confronting the nostalgia, seeing through how he remembers it to the ugliness that lives underneath the skin can he find peace.
The series goes far beyond the original short story. The first episode encapsulates the entirety of the Creepypasta, so the rest of the series is developing a larger mythology and giving just enough explanation to the mystery of Candle Cove. By the end of these six episodes you will know what Candle Cove is and where it comes from, but through that revelation lies more unanswered questions. We’re left with that beautiful ambiguity that makes horror such an enthralling genre. Channel Zero’s next outing starts in January and will adapt the series of stories called No-End House. I am excited to see how stylistically different each iteration of Channel Zero will be as it plays with the horror genre.