In the mid-1990s, America’s children were captured Goose bumps fever. These entry-level horror novels by R.L. Stine, never exceeding 150 pages, were notorious for their text-based scares, abrupt chapter endings that suggested the macabre would only break through the mundane on the next page, and a general promise of clichéd scares with just enough the amount of variation between the books to give you a sense of discovery each time.
Two years after the publication of the first Goose bumps book (1992 Welcome to Dead House) and about the same time as Stein’s titles such as The ghost of the auditorium, Attack of the mutantand Night in the Tower of Terror Christopher Pike self-published YA novel, Night club, which marks a stark contrast to Stein’s deliberately cheap thrills. Pike’s book, about the nightly storytelling rituals of a group of teenage hospice patients, has few incidents, many reflections on the meaning of life and death, and is extremely sad. The book paints a vivid and emotionally merciless portrait of the stages of grief as it spreads across a small ensemble of terminally ill young people. And, crucially, it can be comfortably read in about half the time of Netflix’s new 10-hour adaptation, directed by in-house stylist Mike Flanagan and his The Ghosts of Bligh Manor co-produced by Lia Fong. It may come as a surprise to fans of the book, however, despite the narrative’s frequent fidelity, the tone of Flanagan and Fong Night club much closer to RL Stein than to its supposed source.
Night club focuses on Ilonka (Eamon Benson), a cancer patient who has recently arrived at Brightcliffe, a youth hospice set in a creaky seaside estate. Ilonka is soon inducted into the titular pseudo-secret society of night storytellers, which consists of several other patients – Flanagan and Fong expand Pike’s ensemble of five with three additional members of the club – including Kevin (Igby Rigney), with whom she immediately falls in tragic love , on which YA weepies thrive.
The group’s habit of gathering at midnight in the hospice library to sit by the fire and swap horror stories has earned the tacit approval of the staff, including nurse practitioner Mark (Zach Gilford, who returns to Flanagan’s repertoire after starring in the 2021 Netflix hit Midnight mass) and head Dr. Stanton (Nightmare on Elm Street alum Heather Langenkamp). Ilonka, however, is not satisfied with her prognosis and begins a frantic search for anything that might promise to prolong her life, a search that will lead her and her friends into the dangerous and potentially supernatural web that is Brightcliff’s past.
As detailed in a recent Vanity Fair profile during the production of the series, Flanagan had long hoped to adapt Pike’s novel, even flirting with making it as his feature film debut. However, in expanding the story to fit the demands of the streaming series (and there’s every indication that this will be a lengthy story, rather than the miniseries Flanagan previously provided to the streamer), the creators seem to have felt obligated to add a ton of additional narrative. So the series is both very faithful to the book and very much at odds with it. It would take more words to describe the creator additions in detail than this review has, but suffice it to say to viewers Night club you’re treated to ghostly visions that point to the ghosts of Brightcliffe, terrifying nightmares that foretell a grisly fate for the club’s members, a buried backstory involving a mysterious former patient, and frequent hints of an even more secret society, complete with a signature symbol on various significant objects/bodies characters.
Only one of these contrived narrative threads leads anywhere concrete during this first season, with the others largely teased right up until the final revelations. A related storyline concerns Brightcliffe’s patient from a previous generation who, like Ilonka, refused to accept the inevitability of his death. To say too much about this storyline, which consists of some pretty cheeky breadcrumbs that lead to a series of revelations that are unlikely to shock the seasoned viewer, would risk spoiling the show’s true narrative foundation. But the fact that the only broken element of the show has to be one contrived whole cloth for the screen speaks to how clumsily these new threads are woven into the series. The story of Ilonka’s investigation into Brightcliffe’s most famous ex-patient takes place largely out of sight of the other characters, meaning she can essentially transition from one story into a separate, entirely original TV show, reintegrating just in time for a spectacularly hysterical climax , which makes the basic setup of a bunch of sick kids supporting each other through stories seem suddenly quaint.
It’s a thick and heady bouillabaisse, and that’s even before factoring in the structure of the series: As the midnight club gathers to tell their stories, we see those stories come to life in episode-by-episode events that also happen to star members of the core ensemble. . Therefore, Night club is effectively an anthology series, as the characters supposedly use their imaginations to process their fears and sorrows. Rather than adapt the stories created by Pike for the novel, Flanagan and Fong decided to turn the series into a Christopher Pike showcase by adapting additional novels (including the 1993 slasher An evil heart and the spectral one of the same year The road to nowhere) allegedly as the work of these young storytellers.
During one meeting, club member Spence (Chris Sumpter) talks about the difference between the two stunning and it’s scary: “Everyone can bang pots and pans over their head. It’s not scary, it’s just mind-blowing, and it’s lazy as hell.’ This bold statement should obviously be taken as a statement of purpose from the show’s creators, but Flanagan and Fong can’t quite live up to their own stated values. The club’s stories are filled with cheap jolts that look more like haunted house rides than real “get under your skin” horror. Just one, serialized story by Kevin An evil heart, which stretches a surprisingly gruesome teen-thriller story over several episodes, lingers long after the credits roll, while others (notably Spence’s sci-fi yarn about a time-bending VHS tape) seem designed to evaporate as soon as they spin. In one case, the story is a screen adaptation road to nowhere in which a particularly welcome guest appearance from longtime collaborator Flanagan — overtakes most of the episode and is the writers’ most persistent attempt to express the character’s inner turmoil through narrative. But this only leads to a miserable climax, which is quickly dismissed in favor of returning to the pressing business of finding more cryptic symbols where there shouldn’t be any.
Flanagan and Fong’s approach seems to have a significant plausibility gap Night club. The world of the series is lush and exciting, which will not surprise many fans of the prolific Flanagan, but the characters who inhabit it cannot drown in their environment. These young actors can be slapped with as much pale makeup as the producers want, but they nonetheless look too wholesome and hearty to sell their dire circumstances. The emotional foundation is similarly undermined by an addiction to platitudes—staff often remind their patients that we really everything dying (never fully realizing the cold comfort this might provide), while one climactic emotional spike is accompanied by a catchphrase worthy of “Death is a really crappy reason not to live.” Maybe the ruthlessly realistic view of terminal illness in young adults will be too alienating a prospect for Netflix’s YA audience, but the softening of the edges represents a break in the show’s realism, offering creature comforts at the expense of a sense of verisimilitude.
Not all of Flanagan and Fong’s additions work to the show’s detriment. As with Flanagan’s previous Netflix projects, each member of the ensemble is given a broad spectrum of character, to its greatest effect in the stories of the two gay characters (double the number in Pike’s novel) whose lifestyles are much richer and richer. more nuanced than their equivalents were provided in the original iteration of the story. The fictional characters are drawn with endearing wit and personality, each of them fitting comfortably into the box of Ilonka and Kevin’s love story. Flanagan is an undeniably talented craftsman who doesn’t seem capable of doing anything completely wrong yet (though some 2019 viewers Radiant continuation Dr. Son may argue with such an assessment).
This time last year, Midnight mass became a word-of-mouth sensation for Netflix, and while there was a tendency to bemoan the density of stage monologues in the show – the lack of which in Night club proved worthy of the headline is a supremely self-assured and tonally coherent piece that tells a tense story with attention evenly distributed across a wide ensemble, all culminating in a shocking but, in retrospect, inevitable denouement. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge Flanagan’s latest series against the standard of such a completely different story, designed for an audience a decade or two older than the ideal Night club the viewer But given how comfortably this new project sits, at least on a visual and tonal level, next to the various ghosts Flanagan previously created for Netflix, Night clubFailed world-building attempts stick out like failed tracks on a familiar band’s new album.
Considering the series may have been designed for a completely different demographic, the combination The fault is in our stars and a mainstay of Nickelodeon Are you afraid of the dark? could prove to be a winning formula for the target audience of teenagers (if not toddlers), who will be well served by the carefully oiled aesthetic machinery of the Flanagan/Netflix partnership, not to mention the familiar jump scares guaranteed to happily see them through October’s Friday night. At best, this interesting study of literary adaptation could provide analytical material for the budding media analyst. It doesn’t take much conscious thought to discover this Night club it is an amazing object. Exploring how and why Pike’s novel might turn out to be similar to Flanagan and Fong’s series might prove even more enlightening than Ilonka’s delving into the depths of Brightcliffe’s dark past.
Night club now streaming on Netflix.