the dream door review

Secrets can be dangerous, and suppressed emotions can be deadly in Channel Zero: The Dream Door. The fourth season of the creepypasta-inspired horror anthology series has a running theme of secrets, lies and female rage, with an undercurrent dealing with the shadow of mental illness. Like the best works of horror, it takes reality-based fears and blends them with the supernatural. The end result is one of the most superlative seasons of what’s already the best horror show on TV right now.

channel zero season 4 review

Which Creepypasta Story is The Dream Door Based On?

The Hidden Door, by Charlotte Bywater – which you can read here. Like the previous seasons of Channel Zero, the source material serves as a jumping-off point, giving the adaptation freedom to forge its own path. Nick Antosca, the creator and executive producer of the series, told me, “Every season I think of as a kind of fan fiction of the original creepypasta. In a way it’s our version of – it’s a new mythology of the original story. I’ve said this before, but I think of each season as kind of like a nightmare that you might have after reading the original story that it’s based on.” In other words, even if you’ve read the (very brief) creepypasta story that inspired this season, you’re still in for some big surprises.

Maria Sten channel zero

What’s The Dream Door Story?

In Channel Zero: The Dream Door, newly married couple Tom (Brandon Scott) and Jillian (Maria Sten) have moved to a new house. The couple seems genuinely happy in their marriage, but a cloud begins to form over the relationship when Jillian spots Tom talking to a mysterious woman in a hardware store. Suspicious, she follows her husband, and sees him going to the home of yet another woman – played by horror icon Barbara Crampton. She fears infidelity, but doesn’t confront Tom with them.

Potential infidelity is a cakewalk compared to what comes next. The couple discovers a door in their basement, on a wall where there never was a door before. Understandably disturbed, they eventually manage to pry the door open, and find a hallway that physically shouldn’t be there. If it were, it would be jutting into the basement of their next door neighbor, Ian (Steven Robertson). At the end of the hall is yet another door. And behind that door lurks something else – something from Jillian’s childhood.

channel zero season 4 cast

Is The Dream Door Worth Watching?

Absolutely. Every season of Channel Zero has been worthwhile in its own right, but last season – Butcher’s Block – left a lot to be desired. The Dream Door is a return to form, and the best season since season 1, Candle Cove.

Everyone is hiding something here. Tom has his secrets involving the mysterious women he’s seen with. Jillian has unresolved issues from her past that she’s trying to work out with her therapist (played by Steven Webber). Even next door neighbor Ian isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. That theme of secrets and lies makes The Dream Door far more relatable than most previous seasons. We’ve all kept secrets, and we’ve all gone to great lengths to bend the truth – usually believing we’re doing what we’re doing for the benefit of others. But more often than not, that deception can come back to bite us – as it does to the characters here.

There’s a wonderful, subtle element here dealing with female rage. Jillian has mental issues from her past – thus her time spent with her therapist. But it becomes apparent quickly that no one seems willing to actually listen to her. Tom shrugs her off more than once, and even her therapist attempts to gaslight her on several occasions when she confesses certain things to him. The constant brush-off builds up a rage within Jillian – a rage that has something to do with what’s behind that impossible door.

Maria Sten is sensational as Jillian. The actress doesn’t have many feature credits to her name – she has an uncredited part in Straight Outta Compton, and will next be seen on the Swamp Thing TV series. With this in mind, Sten will be virtually unknown to audiences, but those who watch her work her are going to want to see her in more things immediately. The actress brings a mix of anger and vulnerability to her part that must have been exceedingly tricky to pull off – but she nails it. There are several scenes where we sit back and watch fury settle over her, and the results can be stunning.

Brandon Scott, who appeared in the previous season of Channel Zero as a different character, is also quite good as the secretive Tom. He doesn’t have as much to do – this season belongs to Sten’s character – but he exudes a strength that’s inherently inviting.

If The Dream Door makes a mistake, it’s to waste the always welcome Barbara Crampton in an unfortunately meager role. More of her would’ve gone a long way.

Cheap Thrills director E.L. Katz helms this season, and the filmmaker brings a style that’s quite different from seasons before. It’s more cinematic, and more frantic. He knows exactly when to move the camera – which is often, and many times in vertigo-inducing angles – and when to keep the camera perfectly still, focused in and waiting for something terrible to come.

Dream Door is also staggeringly violent, to the point where I’m not sure how it’s even airing on television. The violence will no doubt border on excessive for some – eyes are plucked out, screwdrivers gouge, buzzsaws cut individuals in half – but it serves a purpose here, and greatly adds to the horror. This isn’t violence for the sake of violence – it’s here to shock and terrify you.

pretzel jack

Is The Dream Door Scary?

You bet your ass it is.

Does anyone like clowns at this point? The face-painted mirth-makers are meant to inspire laughter, but they’ve spent so long terrifying people that their fear-factor has become a cliche. Stephen King made scary clowns famous with It, but he didn’t invent the trope – it’s been going strong for many years.

If you find clowns even slightly scary, The Dream Door is going to fill you with a nameless dread. Because this season introduces you to Pretzel Jack, a contortionist clown who was Jillian’s imaginary friend when she was a child. Pretzel Jack has returned, and been made flesh, here in the present – and he has a habit of brutally murdering people. The look of the character, with his huge white hide and wide, unnatural grin is creepy enough. But then you throw in the fact that he’s also a contortionist, constantly bending over backwards, twisting his limbs, and turning his neck at impossible angles. The end result is one of the most effective original horror monsters you’ll ever clap eyes on.

There are even more horrors lurking within the episodes of The Dream Door, but to give them away would ruin the surprise. But as Channel Zero: The Dream Door unfolds, it grabs hold of you and refuses to let go. And you’ll start to wonder about the secrets you’ve kept, and how they might come back to haunt you.

***

Channel Zero: The Dream Door premiers on Syfy October 26, 2018.

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