“Light as a Feather” is Hulu’s teen horror adventure with a mystery as engrossing as it is grotesque, and just creepy enough to scratch that Halloween itch without keeping you up at night. When popular high-school-clique leader Olivia (Peyton List) invites new girl Violet (Haley Ramm) to hang out with them at the cemetery on Halloween, Violet insists they play the party game Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board. Before attempting to lift or “levitate” each girl, she is told an elaborate story about how she’ll die. When one girl ends up perishing exactly as predicted, the rest are left scrambling to figure out who or what they’re up against before they also end up dead.
Hulu has already been representing the horror genre well with the excellent “Castle Rock” and Blumhouse’s new anthology movie series “Into the Dark.” In dipping its toes into the teen horror well, the streaming service doesn’t quite rival the cinematic heights of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” but instead appears to be aiming more for Freeform’s “Pretty Little Liars” crowd that appreciates character-building and social politics.
As a result, “Light as a Feather” is more disturbing than terrifying. The series eschews the usual jump scares in exchange for stomach-turning moments of body horror and cringeworthy supernatural phenomena that involve creepy-crawly bugs. Adding to those visceral horrors are the psychological ones: What or who would these teens sacrifice under such sick and dire circumstances to save themselves or others? The results aren’t all expected, even though at least one girl engages in selfish, transgressive behavior. But despite this starting off seemingly as a girl vs. girl struggle, it becomes something far more twisted.
Death gives the series surprising emotional weight, and it’s not just the girls contemplating the exact manner of their inevitably gruesome demises. McKenna (played by IndieWire 20 under 20 rising star Liana Liberato) and her mother are still dealing with a traumatic loss from two years ago, and the scenes between parent and child give the series emotional authenticity to balance out the preposterous premise. That dull ache of melancholy actually permeates the rest of the girls as well, each having suffered some sort of sorrow or loss that informs their actions.
However, the show is missing the sharp humor that’s exhibited in some of the better teen horrors, such as “The Faculty” or the “Scream” franchise. The jokes aren’t just comic relief; they also serve as self-aware commentary in a freaky world that is clearly not operating normally. Ramm as Violet delivers a few moments of impish glee when she is playing that line between the sweet, innocent newcomer and possibly homicidal killer, but the show needs far more of that to elevate it. As is, the series gets caught up in its own self-seriousness.
The diverse cast is uniformly strong, giving honest performances in strange circumstances. Besides Ramm’s nuanced understanding of her character’s duality, Liberato is a standout for her scenes with her onscreen mother, played by Dorian Brown Pham. The character journey that Brianne Tju goes on as the increasingly agitated Alex is arresting, and “Dance Academy” and “The Fosters” alum Jordan Rodrigues brings a quiet intensity to a role that could easily have become the cliched misunderstood rebel.
In the end, the secret behind what is causing the horrible events is convoluted and involved, creating its own new mythology that feels new and unusual. The series paces itself to draw out that mystery while also keeping each revelation digestible, with only the final two episodes feeling a bit rushed and overstuffed.
It’s worth noting that the show respects the boundaries of each episode, which is refreshing in the streaming world where some series feel like one bloated mess separated by credit sequences. Instead, each installment here feels deliberately structured with a definite punctuation at the end — even if it’s a cliffhanger. This makes the entire viewing experience more pleasant, as it gives viewers time to mentally breathe.
Despite its premise, “Light as a Feather” doesn’t devolve into a ghoulish snuff film like the perverse “Final Destination.” The show feels like an old-fashioned adventure with teens banding together to uncover a mystery with limited adult interference. Because of that — and its blessedly tight running time of under 25 minutes for each of its 10 episodes — the series is ideal entertainment for a social gathering such as a slumber party, just as long as certain party games are avoided.
Viewers who have finished watching “Light as a Feather” may continue reading on the next page for a spoilery take on the series.
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