And another week of anthology horror. Only two more episodes left on the schedule, and the last episode, "Trilogy", is a trilogy of three tales. Which, crammed into 30 minutes, suggests they'll be even closer to the two-sentence concept. And that's a problem with tonight's episode, "Only Child". They pad it out a bit to fill in the running time, based on the two-sentence story. The first couple of minutes are repeated at the end. When you've got a thirty-minute episode based on a two-sentence "story", the last thing you need is to do a Present-Earlier-Back in the Present set-up.
But what is the set-up for? The episode starts with two parents walking out of their house. An old woman, Desi (Sharon Hope), stumbles around the house and chases after her grandson Rex (Jaiden Smith). She finally corners him and holds a mojo bag against him, telling him the devil is inside of him and has to come out.
We then go back to... yep, you got it, "Earlier". Desi is moving into her son John's house. We never find out why she is forced to move there, and we don’t need to know, either. Thankfully, writer Leon Hendrix III doesn't pad out the episode with explanations of Desi's background. All we know is John (Guy Lockard) and his wife (Pepper Binkley) have taken Desi in.
Desi sets up a voodoo altar in her closet, and tells Rex about it. Later, Rex insists on snapping a camera flash in Desi's face. When she tells him no, John and Emily are the moderns of 2019 parenting, they say they don't use the "no" word and they want everyone to respect and be respected.
Rex comes back later and smashes the altar, runs to John, and tells him Desi made him smoke. John sides with Rex and tells Desi they do things differently, and complains Desi made Rex fear her.
The creepiest part of the episode is when Rex does a "presentation" about Desi's native Haiti, talking about Papa Doc and his wiping out the voodoo priests. His parents stare off into space, and Rex whispers to Desi he's like Papa Doc, sends his parents out, and tells Desi it's just the two of them.
Past catches up to present, as Desi chases Rex through the house and tries to use her mojo bag to drive the evil spirit out of him. John comes back in, grabs Desi, shoves her out of the house, and locks the door. it's been shown throughout the episode Desi uses an inhaler. Rex is standing inside with his parents, holds up the inhaler, and tells his parents to wave goodbye as Desi asphyxiates. They mindlessly wave along with Rex to the dying Desi. The end.
Other than the aforementioned padding, "Only Child" is a decent horror story. It's hard to mess up having a child who is evil or possessed by evil spirits. Desi is a decent antagonist, and she gets sympathy both for being an old woman in danger, and trying to save her grandson. She never goes full-on berserk by trying to kill the boy: Desi just does whatever she's doing with the mojo bag to drive the devil out.
Sharon Hope is effective as Desi, and Jaiden Smith (no relation to Jaden Smith) is a decent child actor who hits all the right notes: creepy, giggling, manipulative. Binkley and Goodard don't have much to do, but the episode is mostly about Desi and Rex. They do fine as the somewhat cloying modern-day parents who spoil their child.
The only problem is the pacing, a problem Two Sentence Horror Stories often has. There seems like a lot of back story the writer isn't telling us. For starters, how does a young boy in a suburban household get possessed by the spirit of Papa Doc, or the Devil, or whatever is turning him evil? it's clear pretty early on that Rex can mind-control his parents, even though the writer seems to be trying to drop hints Rex is a child spoiled by easygoing parents. Either gives us suspense by dragging out the reveal, or don't bother trying to provide an alternate theory.
And finally there's the lack of backstory on Desi, and John, and Desi coming from Haiti. John briefly mentions having issues with his grandmother, but we never find out anything about that. How did Desi end up staying with John? "Only Child" is an episode that could stand to have a few more minutes. Heck, getting rid of the padding at the end would have given them time for a little bit of backstory.
Where "Only Child" gets it right is with the imagery. I haven't been impressed with much of the writing, but the directing has been consistently good. This episode gives us Rex and his mind-controlled parents waving to a dying Desi, and Rex wearing a hat doing his Haiti presentation. They're effective scenes, and the directing on Two Sentence Horror Stories is often effective.
So A for directing, B minus for writing. But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Written by Gislef on Sep 6, 2019