Nickelodeon’s revival of their popular ‘90s horror anthology series retooled how the Midnight Society submitted tales of terror for approval, luring in a new generation of fans. The three-part, self-contained limited series eschewed the episodic format in favor of a season-long story arc, and it proved to be a hit with younger audiences. For its sophomore outing, Are You Afraid of the Dark? gets an expanded episode count and a new Midnight Society, as the story shifts to a foggy seaside setting with its own horror-filled mystery. The premiere episode of Curse of the Shadows introduces an even more menacing boogeyman and spooky chills that send season two off with a solid start.
The opening brings one of the original series’ most memorable and recurring places into focus: Sardo’s Magic Mansion. Late at night, a teenager breaks into the magic shop to steal an old, locked away book. It sparks a thrilling sequence that winds up with the teen abruptly vanishing in the woods. The following morning, we’re introduced to Luke (Bryce Gheisar), a horror fan and best friend of the opening’s teen, Connor (Parker Queenan). Throughout the school day, Luke notices his best pal is missing and checks in with fellow members of the Midnight Society, Jai (Arjun Athalye), Hanna (Beatrice Kitsos), and Gabby (Malia Baker). Their joint search, along with Hanna’s brother Seth (Dominic Mariche), leads them to realize that the town’s urban legend of the Shadowman is real, and it’s connected to their friend’s disappearance.
Showrunner/Writer JT Billings and executive producer/director Jeff Wadlow (Fantasy Island, Truth or Dare) pack a lot into the premiere episode. It establishes the key players, the background behind the season’s big bad, and gives a feel for the foggy fishing town of Shadow Bay while sneaking in a few nods to the original series- like a Ghastly Grinning comic book. All of it feels organic and perfectly paced.
With the Midnight Society’s storytelling sessions on pause while they look for Connor, the premiere finds a clever workaround to deliver exposition. It gives Sardo (Ryan Beil) the ritualistic storytelling reigns, who regales the group with the Shadowman story. The story-within-a-story framework works as a nod to the original show and relays the Shadowman curse rules, entirely crafted around a sequence designed to terrify the show’s young viewers. Just when it seems it could be too frightening, cue Sardo to bring levity from the comfort of his magic shop.
The episode gives Luke the emotional stakes to carry him through what should be a haunting journey, thanks to a terrifyingly designed Shadowman and its ability to exploit our fears of the dark. But the densely packed ep doesn’t give us much time to get to know the rest of the group in any meaningful way, outside of a few key personality traits. With five more episodes on the way and the closing hook that threatens imminent danger, that’s likely to change.
Curse of the Shadows creatively uses scares to draw you in while setting up all the essential pieces of the narrative. It’s packed to the brim with worldbuilding and introductory elements that don’t feel overstuffed, thanks to an innovative story structure. The only thing it didn’t leave room for was for its Midnight Society, but a more extended season should provide more room to flesh these characters out fully. It’s a small nitpick, though, considering the premiere plunges them straight into the deep end of a nightmarish scenario that might leave younger viewers sleeping with a night light.
Are You Afraid of the Dark?: Curse of the Shadows premieres Friday, February 12, on Nickelodeon.