As usual, this anthology offers up a mixed bag of scares and ideas — an interesting diversion for genre fans, but doesn’t quite amount to anything more.
This review of School Tales the Series season 1 is spoiler-free. You can check out all of our coverage on this show by clicking these words.
Horror is always well-suited to an anthological format. There’s something malleable about the genre that just works as a buffet; here’s a ghost story to start, followed by a bit of demonic possession and a light helping of monster madness. You can have a curse here and a witch there without anything feeling too out of place. Such things are never consistent, pretty much by design, but they’re almost always interesting.
School Tales The Series, a new Thai horror anthology now streaming on Netflix, is pretty interesting. It’s also, like most anthologies, a mixed bag, with some stand-out high points and some clear lows. But the clue is in the title. “School tales” implies a continuity of setting, and while these are eight distinct 50-minute stories, they’re all united by similar backdrops and themes, similarly-aged characters, and some overlapping ideas. There are upsides and downsides to the approach. Most of us were sick of school before we left, after all.
First, the upsides. It’s always worth reminding ourselves how many resonant and crucial themes are bundled up in our school years — bullying, sexuality, self-acceptance, academic pressure, and so on, and so forth. These are all compelling angles to approach horror from, and as is often the case, School Tales is good at developing a social horror that is far more terrifying than anything supernatural. When the supernatural stuff does appear, it’s mostly treated with a little restraint. Whether it’s for budget reasons — I suspect so — or a stylistic choice, most of the bloodletting occurs off-screen here, or is at least glimpsed in the gaps between drapes or as shadows cast ominously against walls.
This having been said, though, there are only so many social media influencers I can tolerate, and you can feel the anthology using live-streaming and group chats and such as a bit of a crutch. There’s also a valid point to be made about the general predictability of a lot of its stories and the overall familiarity of its horror devices. There’s nothing inherently wrong with reusing old ideas, of course, especially if they were good ones, to begin with, but it helps if there’s something novel in the writing or character department, and there rarely is here.
Not to undersell matters, obviously. Most of the stories are fine. Only one, a bizarre fifth episode which is basically a comedy, stands out as being a legitimate anomaly. For the others, mileage will vary, but there are a decent amount of nasty visual beats and twists to keep a viewer engaged, even if fewer episodes or shorter runtimes would have been to the series’s benefit. It’s a nice diversion for genre fans, at the very least.