Friday, March 17, 2023

Standing Up For Yourself: A Just Beyond Recap

Song: Break My Stride (honestly this video could not possibly be more '80s, it has to be seen to be believed)

Welcome to Larkinville, the best small town in the world. Except for Trevor. Trevor’s kind of a dick. No, scratch that, a major dick. Not only is he the worst, but everyone is scared of him. He’s only a teenager, but adults are cringing away from him, letting him get away with whatever he wants. Why? Oh, because he’s Trevor Larkin, and his daddy owns the town. Basically entirely – he employs everyone, and is everybody’s landlord. And he is like King Dick, so Trevor comes by it honestly.

At high school, all the kids are essentially his servants or toadies – the nerdy kids do all his work. Anything that isn’t perfect for him, he’ll hit someone. So, Trevor is a psycho. He breaks a kid’s nose in dodgeball, and the mother of the child is out for blood. But he can’t be expelled because … they would all be fired. Principal warns the mom not to do anything – not only will she be fired, her family will be evicted.

A new kid comes to town. He’s like bully-fodder – he is slight and seems nerdy, he has a fake leg and his name is Burger. Trevor is delighted and immediately starts to harass him. The other kids warn the new kid, Evan, to just do what he says. “Welcome to the resistance.”

Trevor demands Evan empty his backpack, but turns out new kid has a spine, and says no. Trevor threatens him, but Evan warns him he’s making a mistake. He gets fully pummelled by Trevor.

A few hours later, Evan is brought to Trevor’s house by his grandmother, who doesn’t really speak English but demands an apology. Nobody is surprised when Trevor is a dick to her, too. The grandma starts chanting – that’s never a good sign. I’m getting Beauty and the Beast vibes here. Everything goes dark and Trevor is actually spooked. A new wind blows through Larkinville, and everyone looks up for a moment. 

That night, Trevor has dinner with his dad, who is unsurprisingly horrible. He laughs about how he did in fact fire and evict the mom whose son’s nose Trevor had broken. Trevor’s mom (stepmom because she’s pretty young?) seems scared of her husband and feels sorry for the family they just destroyed. Is she nice? But then she’s super inappropriate at the dinner table with her husband, and both Trevor and I are horrified. She does offer that Trevor shouldn’t be so aggressive, but the Larkin men agree that if you’re not stomping on others, they’ll be stomping at you. A spooky wind blows things against the window. 

When Trevor wakes up the next day, he’s a little kid! He goes into town and the townspeople aren’t scared of him anymore, he’s not getting away with anything. Then they realize it’s him because of a scar on his face, and they’re even less scared. In fact, there are several adults who are looking for a little payback. This is kinda scary, actually, and Trevor runs away. He’s literally being chased by townspeople and dogs, and kinda deserves it.

Oops, none of the kids in school are scared of him either. Nor are the teachers or the principal. It looks like he’s going to be actually ripped apart but new kid Evan stops them. He says if they continue, then they are as bad as Trevor is.

Trevor escapes and goes to the old lady’s house, the witch who put this spell on him. He begs her for forgiveness, and she tells him: Love others and you love yourself. Hurt others and you hurt yourself. He says he understands, and she says when he wakes up, the world will be as it should. He has the chance at a new life.

Oh no, Trevor, listen to her language! But he goes home to bed, and when he wakes up, he’s back to his massive bullying self. Has he learned a lesson? Of course not! He storms out of bed in the mood for some payback.

But as he tramples the flowerbed like he always does, the gardener speaks out against him – oh, and it’s his dad! The world really has changed overnight. Evan and his family live in his old mansion and they own the town now. 

Only Evan is kind. And the world is a much better place now.

Aww, loved this ending. I felt Trevor shouldn’t have gotten off too easy, and he didn’t. Now he’ll have to work in this new life to be better. Perfect. The message we learned? I’ll repeat the witch: Love others and you love yourself. Hurt others and you hurt yourself. An excellent way to live life, no matter who you are. 

Not the scariest of shows by a long shot, but gosh darn it I’m being swayed by all this good messaging. Am I becoming a better person? 8 angry mobs out of 10.

Friday, March 10, 2023

We've Got Spirit: A Just Beyond Recap

Listen to: Dancing Under the Stars

Get your jazz hands ready for this one! I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy Just Beyond as much as I did. I certainly wasn’t expecting them to be so heartwarming; this one could be enjoyed with a cup of cocoa. Or maybe some popcorn, as it takes place in the theatre.

Ella, a surly teen is on her way to school. She’s having a hard time there, as her best friend Zoe ditched her last year and she’s having trouble getting over how much that hurt. They are both in performance class together, where the teacher demands they all lay their souls bare, which Ella is clearly not in the mood to do.

They take a field trip to the Fox Theater, housed in a beautiful turn-of-the-century building. I had to look up this place, and it turns out Just Beyond was mainly filmed in Atlanta, and the Fox Theatre is a real place there (and also might be for real haunted!) Booking ghost tour in Atlanta immediately.

The fictional Fox Theater is also supposed to be haunted, as it burned down in ’38, taking with it the lives of the theatre troupe rehearsing at the time. The tour director plays it up, staging a bit of a haunted moment where the lights go on and off, and the script of the play they were rehearsing appears on the table (Unfinished Business – a little on the nose!). Ella is overwhelmed in this space, and her former friend Zoe isn’t helping – what a bitch! She runs away from the field trip to avoid having to perform, and ends up falling asleep on the couch in a tucked-away room.

First rule in horror shows: one should never go off alone in creepy haunted theatres. But unfortunately for Ella, she gets left behind and locked in the building. She wakes up to a dead phone and barred doors, and wow is she taking this better than I would!

The chandeliers sway in a ghostly breeze and everything is v. creepy – good job on giving me the chills. Just when everything goes quiet again, doors open and slam on their own and a ghost swishes right by her. Ella is about ready to faint, and the whole ghostly theatre troupe appears in front of her. They look her over and say they want to transform her.

Don’t worry, though, they don’t want her as a ghost, they want her to be an actress! They’ve been looking for someone to help them rehearse a play because they’re down an actor. They’re dead, but they’re not scary – so they say. They’re sweet and sassy, straight from the dirty thirties. And they demand that Ella get over her stage fright right away.

She doesn’t have anything better to do so she tries to run lines with them, but Ella sucks. One of the ghosts possesses her to show her how it’s done, and good job actress for the dual body stuff, very cool. She’s angry about the possession, but just then a terrifying ghost skull shows up to attack them. They warn her to run – apparently, even ghosts are scared of some things. This skull used to show up a lot, but hasn’t happened in a long time. They figure it’s because Ella is there, and they need to get her out.

She goes upstairs to a room that has the blueprints of the theatre and smashes the case – Quiet Ella feels frocking awesome about smashing things up! Girl needs to come out of her shell. One of the ghosts gives her the backstory about the overbearing actress who possessed her – she had been fighting with a young actress the night of the fire, Dolores, who ran away before the fire. Just after he shares this, the ghosts disappears and the slurpee machine in the concession oozes over the top. The ghostly tension builds up, until a ghostly hand grabs Ella, holding it over her mouth. She dashes for the door to the basement, but it’s been bricked over. Ghostly writing appears on the bricks: Please stop.

Damn. That was scary. Now she’s exploring the theatre with a young ghost her age who appears to have a crush on her, it’s adorable. She tells him her story about her friend Zoe, how they used to sing and songwrite together, but then Zoe didn’t want to hang out anymore. She wrote a song for her, telling her how much she missed her, and sent it to her. Zoe, that bitch, shared with the whole school and everyone laughed at her. Ella hasn’t been able to perform since Zoe did that, and I kinda can’t blame her. She says she feels like she’s stuck in limbo, and ghost can agree with that. She sings for him, and he gives her the keys to get out. He had them the whole time, he just wanted to hang with her for a bit.

She thanks the whole troupe and is about to leave when a message from Dolores appears and the horrible skull appears and chases the ghosts away. Ella makes a decision and goes after the actors. She has figured out that Dolores is the demon skull – that she never left the theatre and was caught in the fire same as them. Ella speaks to the skull, understanding how it feels to be cast out, felt like nobody wants them. They make the mean actress apologize to the skull, but the demon ghost is still angry. So Ella tells her (nicely) that she just has to get over it.

Then skull becomes Dolores again, and she says it’s good to let go of the anger she’d been holding for nearly a century. The cast puts on their show, finally, for Ella. As they bow, they then ascend into the light. Their unfinished business was finally completed.

Ella’s parents come to rescue her and she gets out of the theatre. Next time she’s in performance class, Ella gets up and bares her soul, getting her whole class into her song. Even Zoe starts to groove to it (I’ll still be mad – don’t you dare, Zoe). Ella’s moved on, and it’s very moving.

Points for being both cute and at times kinda scary. The message we learned: We need to let go of our anger and move on from things that have hurt us. I’ll give that a standing ovation. 5 demon ghost skulls out of 6.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Unfiltered, a Just Beyond recap

Unfiltered caused some rage to build up in me, so just be warned I might get kind of ranty here! Also, for lovers of all things lit and horror, I'm written a blog post on immortality in literature, and whether it's a blessing or a curse (spoiler alert: for me, immortality will always fall under the horror genre). Check it out at cordeliakelly.

Listen to: Picture Perfect, Sedona

Lily is crazy smart and awesome and as we watch her through the day, we see she’s confident and so full of potential. But, like many teenage girls, she’s also obsessed with selfies and influencers, judging her self-worth based on her looks. She hates her nose, and her glasses, and sometimes wishes she wasn’t a nerd. She confesses to her equally nerdy friend that she wants to be hot, not smart, just once, and go to a party with cute boys. As she says, she wants to be just a touch closer to perfect.

A new crazy-hot teacher breezes into the art class, being all awesome and beautiful as she tells them all to just paint something. Lily’s crush approaches her and she gets her hopes up as he tells her about this party he’s having … and he wants her to tutor him because if he fails his upcoming test, his parents will make him cancel. Lily is crushed that he only sees her as a nerd.

New hot teacher overhears, and tells Lily that it’s hard being pretty too. Okay, no one asked you, hot lady, and I’m offended for Lily that she’s getting involved. Ooh, but now she’s sharing this awesome new beauty app that’s invite-only and I’m realizing that hot teacher is in fact very, very sketchy.

Lily is skeptical, but the beauty app works. As in, it changes her actual face. So she gives herself the nose job of her dream and her face is now perfect.

When she comes to school the next day, she’s just like one of the cute girls.  (Except, let’s just get into this here right now: she could have always worn cute clothes and like, brushed her hair. Self-grooming is okay. Nerds don’t have to only wear oversized flannel.) But whatever, changing her nose and putting on makeup has allowed her to become a changed person. 

Unfortunately, she’s actually a changed person, because as she’s talking to her very smart friend, it’s clear she’s gotten dumber. She looks at the app, that’s flashing a warning sign that side effects include permanent changes in personality.

Except, except, being pretty, wearing make-up or clothes that you like doesn’t actually make you dumb. It’s not an either/or concept, and I’m not loving that this is how it’s being portrayed. It’s a little heavy-handed.

So she ditches her sweet friend to go hang with the popular girls who are into her now that she’s wearing contacts and a crop top. And now she’s chatting with her crush and her real friend is genuinely crushed. The popular girls are kind of mean, though, and they tell Lily she couldn’t land her crush and needed to manage her expectations.

So Lily takes things even further with the app until she doesn’t even look like herself anymore. She also turns into a flaky bitch. She completely fails at the quiz bowl she’d been studying before she got popular, and her friend calls her basic. She will not be accepting calls anymore.

But, things are going Lily’s way because her crush invites her to his party, and I cannot even handle her lips. How does one even speak out of those? I also can’t handle her new, seriously mean attitude. She’s so shallow even her crush can’t handle her, so she frantically goes to upgrade her face again. But she goes too far. She’s turned into one of those weird plastic surgery cat-ladies, it’s a horrifying mess. The whole party goes silent at her face.

She runs to the hot teacher’s house, the one that got her into this hot mess in the first place. It’s weirdly empty and ominous, so obviously she just lets herself in. Hanging in the room are mirrors, where living people are trapped. 

Hot teacher finds her there and gets mad. By now we all know she’s a witch (but not an adorable one) and explains that the people’s spirits are trapped there. They traded their souls to be pretty, because when they have the choice, people will choose outer beauty over inner beauty every time. And she calls Lily out for being shallow.

Lily gets mad and starts smashing the mirrors, realizing that it hurts the witch. She smashes all the mirrors and the souls are released. The witch turns old and ugly, and Lily gets her old face and her old personality back.

First stop, Lily makes up with her friend, who at first plays she’ll never forgive her, but takes her back readily enough. And they walk away with the knowledge that inner beauty is the best. But also apparently that nerds must never think of their appearance because we are only allowed to have one dominant personality trait, and if you want to be smart, that’s it.

Let me finish my rant that wearing makeup doesn’t make women evil? And that wanting to look your best doesn’t actually detract from your other qualities? I get not overdoing it, I get not being swayed by influencers and apps that make it seem like we should all be perfect, but for me, Unfiltered did not hit that mark. 3 hot lips out of 7.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

My Monster: A Just Beyond recap

Listen to: So Good

A teen is watching TV at night during a storm, when she hears creepy carnival music from outside. This is giving me Scream flashbacks and I love it. She gets up to look for the source of the music, and I’m actually pretty creeped out. The tension builds, until in a flash of lightning she realizes a horrifying man-like monster is behind her. A cat looks on as she screams.

Wow, first jump scare of Just Beyond. Did things just get real? Or am I going to learn something about myself?

A girl (a different one) wakes up from a nightmare. There are strange noises coming from her closet, and she leaves her light on. She’s super scared.

She is Olivia, and she just moved into a new town to a new (to her) house. It’s actually her mother’s old house, and her parents are recently divorced. Olivia is like supergirl, incredibly helpful and optimistic to make sure her mom feels okay. Then it flashes to her falling apart, having a panic attack, clearly not really okay at all. And my heart is now with Olivia, who is putting on such a brave face while actually so scared of everything. 

She meets her next-door neighbour, Graham, who is an absolute delight. With no concept of boundaries, he invites himself over and makes himself at home, being both obnoxious and awesome at the same time. He thinks her house is creepy, and is into it. 

As a side note, I like how the teens in Just Beyond look like actual teens, not attractive thirty-somethings. But I just looked up Megan Stott and she must have been 17-18 when this was filmed. I would have guessed 14, so I guess everyone looks younger on film?

Anyway, that night there is a lightning storm, and Olivia hears the creepy carnival music. Guys, this is bad, really bad, and genuinely scary. Finally, after more build-up than my poor heart can take, she sees a flash of the masked man in the suit, same as the one that attacked the other girl!

Next day, Graham continues to be awesome and supportive and snarky at the same time and brings her to meet the popular cheerleader girls of the school, who are into her because Olivia is also a cheerleader. She gets invited to a party at an amusement park (an elite invite) but is freaked out about going on the really sketchy terrifying roller coaster. She hears the carnival music in the school. It’s not the house that’s haunted – it’s Olivia!!

She’s trying to research the monster that’s stalking her with Graham in the library, when he has to go. She hears the music again, and follows it deep into the stacks. I’m still finding this so creepy! Why is there a basement in the library? Why are you going down there, little girl? This is the time when you say NO THANK YOU and leave the creepy music alone.

She goes into the basement. Of course the door slams shut behind her and of course she’s trapped. Now the murderous masked man appears at the end of the hall and he’s all stretched out like slim man and I can’t handle this. He sprints towards her and she cringes away. Just before he gets her, the lights go back on and he’s disappeared. 

Olivia next has cheerleader practice, and I’m surprised she can move at all. She’s not doing well. She’s sort of thrown into it, everyone telling her she can handle it. But she’s a flyer and they’re flipping her around all over the place and I can see how this would suck for her. Then she looks down and everything goes dark and the monster is standing under her. She falls hard.

Despite her struggles, Graham continues to be the bright spot in all this. He tells her she must go to the amusement park party and ride the roller coaster, because risking her life this once is worth not having a Siberian social life. 

Her mom is going out for the night and leaves Olivia with a babysitter – you think she’d be happy to not be alone, but she complains like a teen. But it turns out it was an old babysitter of her mothers, and she had tea to spill. Olivia’s mother used to claim the house was haunted … and that she would hear music. And good god there are a lot of lightning storms here. Climate change?

Olivia confronts her mother, who sighs when she realizes her daughter is afflicted as well. The monster appears when she is nervous. She calls him the squeamer. And by the way, he never goes away. You just have to make friends with him. She tells her daughter with a hug it’s okay to be scared and have bad days and not be perfect.

So creepy monster is the embodiment of Olivia’s fear. And she must accept him as part of his life. I thought that once we learn this lesson, all the scariness would be over, but not really. Olivia gets up that night for some water, and hears heavy footsteps overhead where her little brother is. My god there are so many jumpstarts here.

The monster appears to be going for her brother and she steps in front of it, telling it to back off. She finds her courage, and takes off the monster’s mask. We don’t find out what he looks like, but Olivia is satisfied.

Olivia goes out to that amusement park party and goes on the terrifying rollercoaster (the only one banned by the UN, ha). The masked monster sits next to her, but she tells him the seats already taken. Graham hops in with her and they go for a ride (but you can see the monster’s taken a different seat!)

We learned it’s okay to be scared and we better get comfortable not being perfect all the time. 11 out of 11 lightning storms for serious scare points here!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Which Witch: A Just Beyond Recap

Listen to: Stars Across the Sky, Bien

Entire concept of this is so cool, and relevant to kids these days! Fiona is a real effing witch, (well, half-witch) sitting in the cafeteria with her friends. Her friends are telling her that witches like her need better representation, but Fiona demurs, saying she’s barely a witch anyways because she’s only half. She hides her tarantula lunch from them because she hates feeling different.

It looks like Fiona’s crush on Emilio might be reciprocated, but then mean girl Madison comes up to break her heart, because Emilio is going to the dance with HER. When one of Fiona’s friends makes a thoughtless comment, her other friend grabs her and asks if she’s dehydrated. Snort. This is going to be my new burn.

Fiona goes to the bathroom to drown her sorrows. And also to munch on her tarantula sandwich, because she loves that thing. We discover in this world that witches are real, it’s a thing, and some people are awful to her about it. While others are overly woke about how accepting they are, and it’s pretty cringy too.

Then miracles happen and Emilio stops Fiona in the hall and asks her to homecoming in the most awkwardly adorable way. Except she’s also having a conversation with a weird cat in her head at the same time, making her seem like a weirdo. This actress is good, she made me laugh. The cat offers to scratch Emilio’s face off and Fiona makes it go poof, then floats a little as she says yes to him.

At home, she takes off the makeup that makes her seem more human. She’s got magical eyes and a big ol’ wart and is still adorable. All she wants is for her parents to be more normal and not act like witches at all. 100% this is exactly like a second-generation kid wishing her immigrant parents could just fit in. Unfortunately for that dream, Fiona finds out that her cousin Luna is going to be staying for some months with her, and this is terrible because Luna is “fresh off the broomstick.” As in, she acts like a total witch.

Luna shows up in a purple tornado and they all cackle, which is also adorable. Fiona clearly loves her cousin but is torn because she knows she won’t help her fit in.

At school the next day, Fiona’s friends are super into Luna and want to know everything about being a witch because Fiona never tells them anything. Meanwhile, mean girls are mean, and Luna calls them trolls. Ha. Luna is English, and she also makes a pointed comment in class about it not mattering about bringing dangerous weapons into school in the States. Ouch. And her teacher is so woke it is painful.

The night of homecoming Fiona dresses very human and refuses to take a broomstick. She’s super happy to be with Emilio, but then he refuses to take a photo with her, and she’s sure he’s embarrassed to be seen with her. And she just takes the disappointment. Then he asks her to slow dance and explains he can’t take photos due to eye sensitivity, and all of a sudden I’m thinking he’s a vampire.

Meanwhile, mean Madison steals Fiona’s wand and conjures up cockroaches everywhere. Everyone, including her friends, thinks that Fiona did it and this is genuinely upsetting to me that they didn’t have her back. Crushed, she leaves all the screaming kids in the gym.

Luna finds her in the hallways and apologizes for pushing her out of her comfort zone, but Fiona says she needs to apologize for being embarrassed about being a witch. She sees that no matter what she does, everyone is going to only see her as a witch. Luna, who is a full witch, speaks about how lonely it must be to be a half-witch, as you don’t quite fit in anywhere.

Fiona squares her shoulders. If they’re going to see a witch, then let them see a gd witch – she’s not going to hide anymore. And now she has a saucy hat to go with her cackle and I love her.

Emilio is super in her new look (vampire) and her friends rush up to apologize, and she forgives them, especially because she never really gives them a chance to know what a witch is. Then she takes her wand back from Madison. She doesn’t get revenge, just tells her she has an ugly personality. Then she takes care of the roaches and conjures up a cool galaxy for the dance. Cue song: Stars Across the Sky.

She and Emilio float up into the sky and they kiss. He flashes some fang and I was so right about him being a vampire! I always find them! Then they fly on a broomstick across the moon, E.T. style, and guys I love everything about these shows right now.

What did we learn: Accept your family as they are and don’t be ashamed of where you come from. 

9 out of 9 saucy hats for extreme cuteness and message of acceptance. 

Friday, February 10, 2023

Parents Are From Mars, Kids Are From Venus: A Just Beyond recap

 Listen to: Old Town Road, by Little Nas X

Jack and Ronald are just two ordinary teens, complaining about how weird their parents are. They enter a curiosity shop where the guy behind the counter knows them and starts going off about a conspiracy theory on a race of aliens. The boys look at him like he’s insane and skedaddle.

Their parents are best friends and the two families do everything together. At a backyard barbecue, the parents just don’t get their kids, who find everything they do cringey. I found this whole scene hilarious because the things the parents were into that made them so out of touch included basically all things I love: solar panels, talking about saving money, what wood chips to use in the smoker, matching pyjamas and trying to talk like my kids. So, I am from Mars and I recognize that cringey look that comes over my kid's face when I say “no cap.” I’m dead.

The boys are groaning because the two families will soon be going on a camping trip, and they don’t want to be stuck with their lame parents. Oh, and the parents are having a “Games Night” that night, so the boys know to make themselves scarce.

Jack’s dad comes in to have a talk with him, and by that I mean “the talk” about changes to his body and how he can talk to him about anything. He says he loves him and is super supportive, while Jack is kind of a shit to him.

That night Jack and Ron are playing video games, moaning about what happened because they both had talks with their dads. They also both have weird rashes on their arms. But even worse, they have to go get something at the other house where the parents are. They are sneaking around because they don’t want to play games night, but then they see their parents in robes, performing some kind of cult ritual and levitating stuff. So, are they in a witch cult?

Boys go on a fact-finding mission and find weird robes and rocks in their closets. Jack’s dad nearly catches them, but acts normal. Or is he already suspicious?

They go to the paranoid guy at the curiosity shop, because he seems like a good person to get solid answers. He gives them the terrible news that their parents are aliens. The town is a hotbed. The aliens come and take parents, putting in replacements and waiting for their kids to mature. The rashes on their arms are signs that the boys are being prepped for extraction. He gives them tinfoil hats to protect their thoughts because if the aliens know they know, they’ll eat them right away. Nothing says subtle like a tinfoil hat. He also gives them what looks like old spaghetti sauce, saying that if their parent’s hair changes colour while suspended in that, then they are for sure aliens.

Both of their mom’s hair changes colour in the sludge, so they know they have to spy on another game night/alien cult fun times. Here they get definitive proof when Jack’s mom reaches for a chip – with her tentacle!

Knowing your parents are aliens but unable to tell them for fear of being eaten puts a kid in a difficult position, and they find themselves on a road trip in a van. Jack and Ron sit uncomfortably in the back with their tinfoil hats, while their parents awkwardly sing “Old Town Road,” and once again I am dying.

That night, the parents want the boys to join in on games night. They exchange wide-eyed looks, figuring that the parents know they know and now they are going to eat them. They tentatively start playing crazy eights, when Jack’s dad exclaims he forgot the knife. He grabs an enormous carving knife – when his wife chides him that it’s way too big for the cheese. He’s a cool dad though and cuts his brie with a carving knife. 

Then someone does get crazy eight, and runs over to grab an axe. The boys make a break for it. They grab the car keys and hop into the van, running it straight into the camping cottage because they have no idea how to drive.

The parents haul the boys into the kitchen. The boys confront them with their knowledge – they know their aliens. Ronald hilariously moans why did you take my parents? They have terrible bodies. His parents get offended because they are aliens, but so are Jack and Ronald. They are just a happy pod of aliens, and the rashes on their arms show that their tentacles are ready to come up.

The parents are so loving and accepting as they show their children how cool being an alien is. Then their tentacles come in, and the boys think it’s pretty cool too. Then the van turns into a spaceship and they all jump in, heading towards the star they came from. Everyone is so happy. Down on earth, paranoid guy waves at them – with his tentacle because he’s an alien too! They really are everywhere.

We fade as the parents start singing Old Town Road again.

Um, this show was hilarious. What did we learn today? Accepting that you might be similar to your parents is okay, and maybe even a good thing, even if they seem like total aliens to you sometimes. This is a show I clearly need to watch with my own kids. I give it 5 out of 8 tinfoil hats.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Just Beyond: Leave Them Kids Alone

 Just Beyond

I just can't get enough of R. L. Stine. I was so happy when Disney+ same out with a new series, Just Beyond, based on R. L.'s graphic novels by the same name. I wasn't the only one - I know some of you are into these recaps.

The most tragic thing about me finding these graphic novels is, it wasn't me but my son eagerly reading them. I am now the mother of a horror-loving middle grader and my work writing middle grade horror is making me feel old. Or maybe just that the cycle of horror continues.

Just Beyond is closer to Goosebumps than Fear Street. Unlike Netflix's movie trilogy released in 2021 (you can find my recaps here: 1994, 1978, 1666), this series did not manage to give me the chills. There was no gore, no deaths and no obsessive stalkers. Despite this, I was happy to dive into recapping these shows because they are mainly sweet and usually made me laugh. Every show is its own contained storyline, and each of them has a message with heart (unlike Fear Street, which never really had a message beyond "your boyfriend wants to kill you" or "all twins are at least half evil.") But these messages are relevant to kids of the now.

Hilariously, I often found my life perfectly related to the characters in the show - as the lame parents, obviously. Thank you, Just Beyond, for making me feel both loved and irrelevant at the same time.

Leave Them Kids Alone

We start the very first episode of Just Beyond, “Leave Them Kids Alone,” wandering through your typical high school. There are all kinds of kids doing all kinds of things, listening to all kinds of music. I enjoyed the concept of basically “music as personality.” The pink-haired punk queen is listening to punk riffs, the track-suited guy with oversized beats is listening to rap. For the nerdy flannel guy, a podcast on botany. For the dude in a trucker hat, country.

Then we pan to Veronica, being hauled into the office, as Green Day’s Give Me Novacaine/She’s a Rebel plays. She interrupts a girl bubbling to her about texting a guy she likes in the best way possible: “Robin, our planet is dying. Get your head in the game.”

I already love Veronica, she’s giving me major Anna Kendrick vibes. We find out she’s a good girl gone “bad” because she’s interested in climate change. This time she’s suspended for calling for a protest on hamburger day. “One person can make a difference.” Unfortunately, her parents aren’t down with saving the world and they send their activist daughter to a boarding school.

Miss Genevieve’s School for Difficult Girls specializes in girls who “think” and “have ideas.” (how dare they). The school itself is a gothic institutional monstrosity and, unsurprisingly, Veronica doesn’t like it. All the girls walk around with the same sunshiney attitude, and they are all dressed identically in matching pinafores. Everyone’s hair is flipped out 50’s style. 

Veronica shows her rebellious nature with gum – go girl! She’s not going to conform. But the headmistress is ominously sure she’ll be able to break her spirit. She says there’s no girl she can’t bring around to their way of thinking.

Her roommate is amazingly creepy in a Stepford way, which makes me wonder. Are they all robots? She is definitely not okay with Veronica’s rebellious tunes “Music is strictly forbidden.” 

Further forbidding elements in the school – they eat tons of meat and nobody knows what vegan means. And her history teacher is super into girls being put on trial for witchcraft if they are disobedient. When Veronica speaks up about oppression, the other girls in her class get nervous but the teacher just chuckles, saying she hasn’t had her hair appointment yet. Ooh, creepy, a flipped bob is definitely something bad here, and Veronica is just figuring that out.

She tries sneaking out that night, and runs into a mysterious girl who, despite her hair, still looks like she has thoughts. Claire knows her way around the school and shows Veronica how to travel through the vents. She takes her to the hair treatment area and they watch as another girl gets a “hair treatment.” At first she’s tied down and screaming, but by the end of the process, her personality is gone. The struggling “bad” girl is quite suddenly docile, brainwashed.

Claire explains how it is. Parents know what happens at Miss Genevieve’s, but they don’t question it. They send their daughters there because they’re scared. Their little girls are growing up, they’ve stopped listening to them and they don’t want to deal with it. Parents can’t deal with the issues of the world, or their children pointing them out to them, so they prefer to pretend everything is okay. Very on point.

Claire came to the school because her sister is there, only she’s been brainwashed and doesn’t know her. Claire pretends to be the same in order to keep herself intact - she wasn't brainwashed because she has a plate in her head. Veronica suggests maybe the salon could give her personality back, but Claire is worried – what if it makes her worse? But V comes back with what’s worse than not knowing who you are?

Next morning V looks over the sheep around her and starts to whistle the Twilight Zone, which is pretty funny, but she draws the ire of Miss Genevieve herself, and is hauled into her office. Miss G is uber creepy and talks about breaking all the little brats. After this, V runs into Claire, and it’s clear she was caught and brainwashed the night before. She talks about how everything feels so clear, so light now.

Veronica gives up. She starts to think it might be nice to be brainwashed. She asks her roommate what it’s like not to care about anything. She’s starting to crave the clarity, the thought that the world is a great place she used to have when she was younger. Ready to be brainwashed, she gives her roommate her stereo as a farewell gift. 

But roommate seems to be fighting something, and slowly pressed the music on. “She’s a Rebel” blasts out and roommate screams in agony. V turns it off but the damage has been done. Her roommate is changed – she’s back. She doesn’t know what happened and is horrified by her hair. 

V goes to the office, with a plan. She tells Miss G she’s ready to be brainwashed, calling her out on the whole plan. Miss G smirks and tells her no parent’s ever complained about her methods. Their choices are taken away from them, and V thinks it’s because the grown-ups are scared. Miss G tells her today’s children are lazy and full of themselves. 

V gestures to the office, where roommate has snuck in, and starts playing She’s a Rebel over the loudspeaker. All the girls screech in agony, then look around in disbelief. V has given them their personalities back.

The last shot is all these bobbed, pinafored girls running through the field. Let the rebellion begin.

Loved it. Was Leave Them Kids Alone scary? Well, obviously the concept of grown up trying to control the thoughts of their children because they don’t like what they have to say is insanely creepy, there were no jump scares. Will Miss G perhaps sneak her way into my nightmares? Very possibly.

Message learnt: Be true to yourself and your personality, and never stop asking the hard questions. I give Leave Them Kids Alone 6 bobbed personality-less hairstyles out of 7, for being charming and essentially heartwarming.

She’s a rebel, she’s a rebel, she’s a rebel,
and she’s dangerous