We’ve had videogame adaptations, podcast adaptations, even adaptations of shortform internet creepypasta. But to my knowledge, The CW’s Two Sentence Horror Stories is the first time a Reddit thread has gotten its own TV show. Creator/writer/director Vera Miao’s horror anthology (making the jump from its previous iteration on Verizon’s go90) is inspired by the glut of microfiction that flooded from the unsuspecting prompt of “What is the best horror story you can come up with in two sentences?”—but how its viral inspiration differs from a traditional logline is…nebulous at best. At the very least, it’s an excuse to watch some efficient, self-contained horror built on the essential components of the genre: expectation and subversion. With only two sentences, there’s not room for much else.
That’s a good thing. More than many recent adventures into the twist-forward form (looking at you, Into the Dark), Two Sentence Horror Stories finds the right balance and speed for its anthology. The quick episodes, each less than a half-hour, waste no time sowing their uneasy seeds. They split their source sentences to give you a vague premise up front and fill in its macabre twist before the credits role. It’s like reading half the joke, then eating the popsicle to get the punchline. Equally delicious and enjoyably corny, the show’s version of “Oh No, Henry!” plotting lands squarely in the Tales from the Crypt style.
In the first example, director Natalia Lyudin’s episode is edited in visual stutters, with discombobulating sound effects and cleverly-withheld visual information enhancing the jarring script from C.S. McMullen. The story, serving as a showcase for actress Nicole Kang, is about a serial killer (Jim Parrack) that finds his single mom targets by being the quintessential Nice Guy on dates. Kang’s character isn’t putting up with his shit, which triggers some scary stalking activities that pile on with authentic and overwhelming succession. Kang juggles sweet, enamoured, hurt, scared, and righteous—all capped with a beautifully violent kiss-off.
This, combined with the other episode sent to press (which Miao wrote and directed), sets Two Sentence Horror Stories up for some savvy WOC-led horror that does more for its characters in its twenty-minute intervals than many horror features do. Miao’s body horror story, about loss of autonomy in emotional and economic senses along with its skin-crawling physicality, charms with an even scrappier style than the first. Tara Pacheco runs the show this time around as a roofied office worker: her aching performance is perfectly scaled, so big that you think she might burst.
By featuring female protagonists put upon by uniquely male awfulness, these stories touch social relevance without satire, wink, or otherwise misbegotten slant—these are horror stories of experience, stretched only a bit into the realm of genre. Condensed runtimes mean that their traumas are accelerated, told with shorthand that’s energetic rather than trivialized. It also means that there’s no time to waste on different plot threads. The focused and freaky plots aren’t especially unique, but they’re still fun to watch briskly unfold. You’re not going to be wowed by the twists, but you’ll still take some cathartic satisfaction in the (often disturbing) comeuppance that follows. One of my favorite things about the show, which can still sometimes catch on a stilted piece of dialogue or contrived interaction (usually minor quibbles that feel bigger because of the series’ leanness), is that it isn’t afraid to get nasty. There’s some seriously gross stuff in just the first two episodes, along with one of those wonderfully bloody moments that makes you go “Oooh!” and curl up in a little ball—but with a smile still stretched across your face.
With only two of its anthological entries released, it’s hard to judge what Two Sentence Horror Stories will be in its totality. Like the Reddit thread, the endless collections that followed it, or literally any horror anthology to ever exist, there is sure to be a wide variance of quality over the season. But they’re such digestible and clever little morsels that, like a horror story that’s only two sentences long, it’s hard to say no to just one more.
Two Sentence Horror Stories premieres Thursday, August 8th on The CW.
Jacob Oller is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, Interview Magazine, Playboy, SYFY WIRE, Forbes, them, and other publications. He lives in Chicago with his two cats and a never-ending to-do list of things to watch. He likes them (the cats and the list) most of the time. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.