This past decade has been something of a new ‘golden era’ for horror. And one of the added benefits of this quality influx has been a trickle-down effect. That is, we’ve seen more horror-themed content for younger audiences. Call it ‘gateway horror’. Goosebumps, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and Are You Afraid of the Dark have or will be rebooted. Just this past summer, Andre Øvredal adapted Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark for the big screen. Don’t forget the Riverdale revamp and its increasingly silly, supernatural storylines. Recently, Netflix acquired the BBC-produced teen supernatural drama, The A-List. Promising a mix of ‘Mean Girls’ and “Lost’, is The A-List binge-worthy?
Popular teen, Mia, finds herself shuttled off by her parents to Peregrine Island for summer camp. Her only consolation is knowing she’ll be the camp’s ‘Queen Bee’, giving her the pick of the best-looking guys. But when Amber unexpectedly arrives late, Mia finds herself facing competition for the top spot. Yet what initially looks like teen rivalry takes a dark turn. In spite of appearances, Amber isn’t like the other campers. Soon Mia realizes something isn’t quite right with her rival. And Peregrine Island’s campers may be in danger.
The A-List Offers ‘Lost’-Inspired Mystery for the YA Crowd
While it’s hard to believe, Lost and its story of the Oceanic Flight 815 passengers ended its television run nearly a decade ago. Yes, time flies by. And that’s just enough time to re-imagine the concept for younger audiences unfamiliar with the ABC series. Or just unfamiliar with the idea of network television. For 15 minutes or so in The A-List premiere episode, it looks like just a mix ‘Mean Girls’ and teen summer camp melo-drama. It’s those final minutes of the first episode’s conclusion that abruptly set the show on a different course.
Mystery and supernatural elements are thereafter slowly weaved into the adolescent fights over boys and summer queen crowns. For anyone who has seen Lost, the comparisons are inevitable. First, Peregrine Island itself seems to hold some supernatural secrets. Growling sounds emanate from the woods. Then there’s a split in the ground as well as a mysterious island inhabitant hiding away from the campers. If these comparisons seem subtle, the secret island research lab makes the similarities far more explicit. With the mystery of a past dead camper no one acknowledges and the increasing possibility that the campers may be re-living the same summer, The A-List is to Lost as The Hunger Games was to Battle Royale.
The A-List Kind of Works In Spite of Itself
Like the Riverdale reboot, The A-List actually kind of works as guilty pleasure viewing. Though it’s not as substantive as its source material, The A-List improves over its 13 episodes. Some of this can be chalked up the episodes’ short runtimes. On average, each episode is only about 25 minutes. Moreover, The A-List manages to add enough twists and wrinkles to actually make it kind of engaging. It may get silly or prompt occasional eye-rolls, but The A-List never gets boring. Don’t go into The A-List expecting Stranger Things, Chambers, or even The Society. But by the time things end on its surprisingly unexpected cliffhanger, you may find yourself hooked.
Strong Lead Performances and Attention to Character Deliver Big Assist
Arguably, Lisa Ambalavanar, who plays ‘Mia’, is the series MVP. Given what appears to be a rote ‘Mean Girl’s character, Ambalavanar turns in a remarkably layered performance. It’s a performance aided by a surprisingly effective character arc. As Mia transforms from shallow and self-absorbed to compassionate and resilient, her story works along with the mystery to hook you in. Similarly, Rosie Dwyer’s ‘Alex’ gets to grow from ‘disgruntled misfit’ into another fully realized character. As the series’ villain, Ellie Duckles is suitably creepy, turning in her dialogue with the expected icy delivery.
The A-List Makes for Fun B-Level Binging
No one is going to mistake The A-List for prestige drama. Nothing about this series approach the story-telling quality of the wrongfully canceled Netflix series, Chambers. But as its own thing, The A-List makes for fun Netflix binging. Shorter and less weighty than The Society, younger audiences may enjoy the mix of teen melodrama and supernatural mystery.