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DVD Review: Channel Zero: Candle Cove

Based upon Kris Straub’s creepypasta short story, Candle Cove was the first anthology in Syfy’s Channel Zero series with the second No End House, Butcher’s Block (S3) and The Dream Door (S4) swiftly following before announcement of its cancellation. Its creator Nick Antosca and producers Don Mancini (Child’s Play) and Harley Peyton (Twin Peaks) brought a unique experience to the small screen, most of which are now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Candle Cove opens during two months in 1988, five children: Jacob Booth, Sadie Williams, Carl Cutter, Gene Hazel and Eddie Painter go missing with four later found murdered. Only one – Eddie – was never returned nor remains discovered for burial. The Iron Hill Murders were never solved and now, 28 years later, Eddie’s identical twin brother Mike (Paul Schneider) a child psychologist is recovering from a breakdown and plagued by nightmares that eventually make him head home to mother Marla (Fiona Shaw) and the childhood home and friends he left behind. Once there, he realises that a TV show has started to air again called Candle Cove, an eerie puppet-led programme that only children seem to be able to see and which brainwashes them into participating in some deeply disturbing antics.

As more children go missing and start acting strangely, losing teeth along the way, Mike, – even finding himself a suspect at one point – must embrace his repressed memories, childhood traumas and nightmares head-on if he is ever going to discover the truth about Eddie. His creepy journey will see him recollect the bullying, the paralysing fear, and meet the mysterious Jawbone, its merry band of shipmates aboard the happy ship on the way to Candle Cove, and prevent history repeating itself.

While some shows tend to tell their stories from the child’s perspective, the world between adults and kids separated, here they interlink; childhood fear enforces adulthood and that trauma never leaves – all those things that grown-ups dismiss as an overactive imagination manifest and are all the more real and frightening. What makes Candle Cove so effective is its thoughtful and understated – even mundane – approach to horror. Yes, it uses tropes familiar in the world of Stephen King but there are also elements of The Twilight ZoneThe X-FilesAmerica Gothic and even Mystic River (2009), with additional (and repetitious) layers of intrigue. The fact that Winnipeg (doubling for Iron Hill) is so green, lush and naturally shot only enhances the supernatural.

There are nods to Treasure Island, The Muppets and an all-too terrifying version of the tooth fairy but not like you’ve ever seen. Childhood fears are its emotional backbone but it uses guilt, grief, dream logic and some surreal and whimsical imagery to really sell the deeply unsettling. The performances particularly those of Schneider, Shaw and two of the children, Abigail Pniowsky (Arrival) as Lily Painter and Luca Villacis, who portrays the Painter twins beautifully and skilfully relays two very separate personalities, elevates the subject matter. The thing about murderous children is that they are utterly terrifying; corrupted innocence disturbs and distresses on such a profound level. The lack of gratuitous violence is refreshing also, it’s not completely absent but tends to be distancing, quick and almost always off-screen.

Told over six episodes this anthology is an atmospheric and quietly unique experience, it builds the dread and truly unsettles staying with you long after the denouement. It’ll haunt your dreams especially the child made entirely of human teeth but never fear, head to bravery cave, all your secrets will be safe in Candle Cove…

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