Binge or Purge?: Two Sentence Horror Stories.

Two Sentence Horror Stories

This horror anthology collects terrifying shorts from a diverse perspective.

This October we’re looking at anthology collections. Horror tends to be the most prolific contributor to this style, from classics like The Twilight Zone The Movie and Creep Show to modern iterations like Black Mirror that have become television staples. To stand out among the crowd, new horror anthologies often need a hook.

That’s a bit literal, but we can work with it.

Two Sentence Horror Stories’ hook is fairly obvious: the director makes a horror film inspired by two cryptic sentences. The twist is that the audience only gets to see the first sentence at the start; the complete couplet is only revealed after the short is over. This gives the directors room to maneuver and play with expectations. Sometimes the constant twists are a bit gimmicky, but the fact that TSHS features a wide array of multicultural stories and talent means there’s something novel to enjoy about each story.

Two Sentence Horror Stories (2019)

Two Sentence Horror Stories

Each episode features a short horror story based inspired by two sentences. The audience sees the first sentence at the beginning, with the total prompt revealed after the short. Each short features a different director and cast, except for the final three episodes which form a trilogy.

Episode 1: Gentleman.

A single mother (Nicole Kang) hesitantly jumps back into the dating pool. She meets a man (Jim Parrack, Suicide Squad) who initially seems off-putting, until she mentions she has a baby daughter. The man loves children, and they hit it off. As the relationship progresses, the young mother grows wary of how fixated he is in “becoming a good dad.”

TSHS gets off to an uneven start. I liked that the short (and the series as a whole) situates its horror in diverse perspectives. We get a young Asian American mother here; other stories are told from the perspective of an immigrant family, a gay teenager, and an elderly Chinese woman. This episode also has a solid premise which had me invested early on.

Shhh, don’t cry, they get better, shhh.

Unfortunately, the episode also features unsubtle acting and a reliance on a twist that said unsubtle portrayals render ineffective. Instead of hinting at the reversal, it makes it all but inevitable. As such, the tension and horror bleed out of the short before the big finish.

Episode 2: Squirm.

Keisha (Tara Pacheco), a new office assistant, attends the company holiday party and is encouraged to drink too much. She wakes up the next day with no memory of getting home, but finds disturbing messages sprinkled around her home. Her feeling of personal invasion only grows as the cryptic messages hint that her attacker left something inside her.

Director Vera Miao’s short deftly marries the mundane features of an Office Space-esque setting with surreal body horror as Keisha goes through hell. The expected terror resulting from sexual assault has the volume turned all the way up with the addition of the idea that the perpetrator has hidden something inside her body like the Jigsaw killer. It takes the literal facts of assault and imbues them with added horror, which turns around and highlights the natural terror of the experience. Horror as a mirror is tremendously effective, and Miao really crafts a visceral short with strong performances, surreal camera work, and terrifying visual effects.

Episode 4: Hide.

Araceli (Greta Quispe) drills her children on how to answer the door while she is away at work – the usual fear of strangers compounded by fear of ICE officers coming to deport members of the family. At her day job as a nanny for a developmentally challenged girl, she has to deal with the consequences of a different danger when the little girl lets two deranged teenagers into the home, intent on murder.

Hide is another effective short that uses its horror premise to highlight a terrifying situation in the real world. The two thrill killing teens (not incidentally a pair of affluent white teens looking to invigorate their “bland” neighborhood and achieve viral fame) are ghoulish incarnations of a system of power and privilege which could at any moment tear apart Araceli’s family without hesitation or remorse.

The nuts and bolts of the home invasion, complete with masked assailants, is a familiar trope used to foreground another terror viewers may be less familiar with. It is handled effectively, though the short nature of the medium and the lack of potential victims means we speed through the events. When the final twist drops, it buries the knife of the film’s theme even deeper. It’s a good short, in command of its genre and ideas.

Binge or Purge?

Two Sentence Horror Stories puts its best foot forward when it uses horror elements to mirror uncomfortable aspects of the world around us. Having worms under your skin or a dead husband return to haunt you, a la The Grudge, are events fantastical enough to sidestep your filters and biases, just long enough to deliver a glimpse into the real horror of being a rape victim or the survivor of an abusive relationship. That each short comes from unexpected, under-represented perspectives is a delight.

Even when the horror tropes are a bit bald, the flavor of the stories are engaging. I’m inclined to keep watching, to see what social issues get matched to which horror vehicles. The two sentence gimmick hardly factors into the enjoyment I got from the inventive use of genre tropes. Binge.

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