Hulu and Blumhouse’s monthly horror series Into the Dark is back for another year, which means we’ve got a new Halloween installment to mark October’s biggest holiday. This time around, a group of college kids gather to mark a grim anniversary with a spooky game. What could go wrong?
Obviously, everything can and does go wrong in “Uncanny Annie,” which is written by Alan Blake Bachelor and James Bachelor and directed by Paul Davis (who made last year’s Halloween Into the Dark episode, assassin tale “The Body”). In fact, things aren’t really going all that well before October 31 rolls around, a date that marks the mysterious death of Tony, a close friend to Wendy (Once Upon a Time’s Adelaide Kane), her boyfriend Michael (Halloween’s Dylan Arnold), Eve (Georgia Flores), Peter (Evan Bittencourt), and Craig (Jacques Colimon). Newcomer Grace (Paige McGhee) is also invited.
Wendy and Michael aren’t exactly in a great place with each other, and Eve and Craig’s recent break-up has everyone feeling kind of awkward. But still, they reunite to honor Tony a year after his passing with one of his favorite activities: board games! Since everyone wants to participate—not just the dedicated RPG-ers among the bunch—they dig into an eclectic stash of random games they find in the basement of their rented house...and settle on one nobody can recall ever seeing before, an ominous “dark box of fun” called Uncanny Annie.
That choice could be considered their first mistake—as it so often is for young folks in movies of this ilk, like Ouija and Jumanji. (The latter even gets a shout-out in the script, which is peppered with pop-culture references to stuff like Game of Thrones and Candyman.) But another immense mistake lurks in the past for a few of the friends, and the game—which is, surprise, actually powered by a demonic child who sees them as her playthings—begins to needle them with that dark secret almost immediately.
“It’s a game. In the grand scheme of things, it means nothing,” Peter says early in “Uncanny Annie,” though it’s soon obvious that he couldn’t be more wrong about this particular deck of cards. And really, it seems like the dearly departed Tony (a Settlers of Catan man, we’re told, but unfortunately we really don’t learn much more about him) was the only one with a true passion for playing; I kept waiting for the characters to come up with any kind of strategy, or at least tap into their gaming know-how somehow. But they don’t, and even after Annie makes it clear that physical, life-or-death stakes are involved, there’s still gotta be that one person who refuses to play along when they’re directed to spill the beans on that thing they don’t wanna talk about—even if it puts all of their friends, including the innocent bystanders, at risk.
For a show that churns out the equivalent of a low-budget horror movie every month, there have been some surprisingly great Into the Dark entries, a testament to the variety of talent that’s been brought aboard to contribute to the anthology. (Last year’s Christmas episode, Nacho Vigalondo’s awesomely nutballs “Pooka!”, is still my favorite.) Unfortunately, “Uncanny Annie” feels a bit lightweight, especially considering it’s the season two kick-off episode, and oddly—aside from giving its characters an excuse to wear costumes, and some eerie decorations scattered around—Halloween itself doesn’t really factor into the plot at all.
But the episode does do a lot with its single setting, and it piles on the “Oh shit, what now?” tension to acceptably excruciating levels. The baby-voiced title villain (played by Karlisha Hurley), who giggles as she hands down her cruel punishments, is also pretty great—picture Jigsaw with pigtails. She’s not as memorably terrifying as Michael Myers, but you get the feeling she’d be delighted to stick a razor blade in your Halloween treat.
Into the Dark episode “Uncanny Annie” debuts today on Hulu.
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