A cheapish YA horror series unceremoniously dumped behind Peacock’s paywall just before Halloween, The Girl in the Woods may have seemed a relatively humble addition to the recently launched NBCUniversal streaming platform’s premier tier, but its overseers have far greater plans.
As the first intellectual property from Blumhouse-funded digital abattoir Crypt TV to cross the mainstream threshold, the locally filmed series represents patient zero for the coming onslaught of monstrous content threatened ever since Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) founded the virtual studio six years ago.
Like fellow Crypt TV-born, Oregon-made fan fave The Birch, The Girl in the Woods first came to life via fun-sized grindhouse shorts seeded across the web. 2018′s The Door in the Woods followed the struggles of Carrie—sole survivor among the preteen guardians charged by a folkie religious colony called Disciples of Dawn to protect our realm from the ravages of a dimension-hopping predator (think curdled-milk Venom) who’s aching to open a doorway deep in the forests of Columbia County. Two years later, another short called The Girl in the Woods found our heroine aged into former Disney Channel star Peyton List and outfitted with a blade-wielding robot arm courtesy of itinerant electrical engineer and demon-hunting sensei Arthur Dean (Kal Penn).
This latest incarnation of the same name, whose first season of eight 30-minute episodes dropped en masse Oct. 21, has retained the short’s essential elements—the girl, the door, the woods—but is now focused on the fictional Oregon town of West Pine. Arthur and Carrie, now played by Stefanie Scott (Insidious: Chapter 3) and Will Yun Lee (Altered Carbon), have tracked the netherworld refugees to a rural mining community where a hooded illusionist practices a rather more intricate brand of soul-snatching from families on both sides of the tracks.
The mineworker thinks he found gold, the environmental lawyer disappears following a trail of cigarettes, and their teenage BFFs Tasha (Sofia Bryant) and Nolan (an incandescent Misha Osherovich) are sufficiently creeped out and join Carrie’s crusade, accepting the dagger-limbed newcomer’s explanations, however nonsensical in retrospect. (Keeping in mind that the only access to the nightmarish hellscape is an actual, ordinary, non-metaphorical door, why did the original contractors even include a knob? Wouldn’t a wall have made more sense?)
To be sure, The Girl in the Woods’ expansive take on horror isn’t particularly groundbreaking. Every dressed-down teen queen diverted from cheer practice by a warrior’s destiny and an alt friend group can trace her dyed roots back to Buffy Summers, while shadowy sects of hemp-robed zealots holding back end times through blood-steeped asceticism may as well be an entire YA genre. Even set against the Sunnydale spectrum, though, the Peacock series decidedly leans into filler scenes borrowed from superherodom yet focuses on all the dullest tropes. Despite all the furious exposition and diligent lore-tending, we never quite get a full picture of the world they spend so much time building, and the ever-lengthening flashbacks suggest a series flowing backward.
Like Netflix dramedy Everything Sucks! and ABC sitcom Suburgatory, The Girl in the Woods delves deep into the suffocating mundanity of small-town life for teenagers dreaming big. There’s more than a whiff of Grimm in each glimpse of beasties hidden within the forest.
Mostly, though, our native soil contributes more torpor than terrain. Along with the drizzling melancholia that perma-gray skies encourage, The Girl in the Woods taps into the dampened ambitions and mouldering dreams hovering alongside the shuttered mines and mills.
Productions can grow enchanted framing drone-shot vistas of majestic wilderness while ignoring how creepily oppressive acres of old growth can appear from below. Most Oregon location shoots miss the forests for the trees, in other words, but this program digs deep into the area’s darkening undergrowth.
In small doses, the grim climate and unending succession of terrible parents present the irrepressible joie de vivre of our core trio, but the show isn’t what you’d call fun. Layering exposition with an unrelenting morbidity the clunky narrative could never justify, the show suffers from both dismal excesses of a failed story and an underplayed telling too artfully morose. Though the original shorts always felt more proof-of-concept for a series to come, the constraints of format did The Girl in the Woods a disservice.
Later episodes’ quality of scarecraft combined with easy interplay between such appealing leads argues for a narrower focus absent the training montages and wonky backstory digressions pumping up the convoluted mythology for future arcs hardly guaranteed. Honestly, clear out the interminable flashbacks and awkward info dumps that constitute nearly half of the series, add some semblance of satisfying closure, and you’d find the winsome coming-of-age shriek fest this material would best support.
SEE IT: The Girl in the Woods streams on Peacock.