This Channel Zero review contains spoilers.
Channel Zero Season 2 Episode 1
(exclusive photo: No-End House Room 1)
“Do you scare easy?”
“Depends on the type of scare, I guess.”
If we learned anything from Channel Zero’s first season, it’s that this show doesn’t usually go for the jump scare. Instead, viewers are treated to sights and sounds that are either disturbing and traumatic or creepy to the extreme point of terror. No-End House continues that tradition in its premiere episode, “This Isn’t Real,” which introduces us to teenage friends, Margot and Jules, and the guys they hang out with. While a house of unknown origin containing increasingly scary rooms sounds like a typical teenage horror movie premise, the execution is anything but. In this opening offering, the stage has been set for a terrifying psychological journey.
The cold open did its part to make us question everything from the start. Even if the words “this isn’t real” weren’t scarred into the frightened girl’s arm, the setting of identical houses with oddly placed house numbers gave the sequence an artificial, sterile feel. The No-End House itself was clearly out of place, but not necessarily menacing on its own. In fact, one had to wonder why the girl was running toward it to escape her pursuer. Perhaps answers to that will come.
In the meantime, a signature Channel Zero characteristic emerges almost immediately upon meeting Margot Sleator and her friend, Jules, a commonality that No-End House shares with its season 1 counterpart, Candle Cove: the quiet dialogue. As the two talk about Jules’ summer classes and Margot being a recluse, their voices barely register. Even Margot’s mom, who conveniently departs on a 5 o’clock flight leaving the college students alone, speaks in hushed tones. It’s a genius way to make comfortable speech sound foreboding, almost as if a jump scare were coming but never does.
Even the introduction of the No-End House is barely commented on at first. Videos mysteriously showing up on both girls’ phones are treated with mild curiosity. Ultimately, the audience becomes complacent as an old friend, J.D., who carries a torch for Jules, and a new acquaintance, Seth, carry on the flirtatious small talk filled with cautious laughter that befits the lead-in to the No-End House, a concept that would otherwise be jarring or out-of-place.
Channel Zero showrunner Nick Antosca on Sci Fi Fidelity (49:40):
As a result, all of the young people converge on the house with something to prove, to each other or to themselves, and the urban legend feel of the place, which roams from city to city, country to country, appears as a perfectly acceptable art installation labeled almost comically: “Wood, nails, copper, caulk, you.” The only detail of significance that we learn before the journey into the house begins is that Margot’s father died of anaphylaxis, along with a few details about nightmares shared in a moment of intimacy between Margot and Seth.
Thus it should come as no surprise that Room 1 of the house depicts the participants’ plaster heads being opened since the house appears to mine the minds of those who enter it to create the customized frights of Rooms 3, 4, and 5. Those who have read Brian Russell’s original creepypasta on which No-End House is based may have been surprised at how the different rooms unfolded, but if the aim was to mess with the viewers’ minds just as the characters’ minds were being manipulated, then the mission was accomplished.
What are we to think of the man in the mask in Room 2 who drags the supposed “actor” away leaving a trail of blood? And who is the mysterious, older-looking bearded man who tells the 20-somethings to exit the house before moving on to Room 3 saying, “It’s not too late.” And why did the masked man use Margot’s dad’s nickname for her, “Martian,” while also welcoming her back as if she’s been in the house before?
Margot’s guilt over her dad’s death is at the core of her character even before she enters the house, but with Rooms 4 and 5 both sharing different views of the incident, there are plenty of chances to explore feelings of regret, horror, disgust, trauma, and all of the types of scare Channel Zero has in its arsenal. All that’s left to wonder about is what Jules saw on her end and what happened to J.D. and Seth (not to mention beard guy).
But the twist ending was everything. Returning home through the same cookie-cutter neighborhoods we saw in the opening scene gave the first clue that all was not well, but the reappearance of the number 6 was also straight out of that initial sequence, only now with more meaning. Have they really left No-End House? Or do the numbers just keep getting higher as the fear digs deeper into the young people’s psyches? And if dear ol’ dad is back from the dead, “This isn’t real” means anything is possible. Even with more mind traps ahead, viewers, like the characters in Channel Zero, are compelled to keep moving ahead to the next room in the (coincidence?) six-episode season.