PRETTY LITTLE LIARS: ORIGINAL SIN
“The past doesn’t lie.”
Created by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Lindsay Calhoon Bring / Cast: Bailee Madison, Chandler Kinney, Zaria, Malia Pyles, Maia Reficco, Mallory Bechtel, Carson Rowland, Alex Aliono, Jordan Gonzalez, Derek Klena, Ben Cook, Sharon Leal, Elena Goode, Lea Salonga, Zakiya Young, Eric Johnson, Kate Jennings Grant.
Body Count: 9
Laughter Lines: “To paraphrase Heathers, our teen-angst has now has a body count.”
I watched precisely one episode of the original Pretty Little Liars series, realised it was going to drag out its one-note premise way past its welcome and find a way to screw you over to force multiple seasons.
Upon hearing that a (second?) spin-off series was opting for a straight-up revenge slasher tale over an I-can-do-it 10-episode season, I took a dip.
With title fonts clearly designed to conjure up memories of Friday the 13th, and screen prompts in the Halloween font, telling us what day we’re on, it’s clear from the off somebody involved was penning a love letter to the golden age of dead teenager stalk n’ slash.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, a dishevelled teenage girl staggers into a rave, begging for help from a quintet of prissy prom queens, who tell her she’s on her own. As the clock is about to strike twelve, the girl leaps from the rafters to her death at their feet.
Leaping forward to 2022, all five women still live in the town of Millwood. All five women have one child apiece. All of these children are girls in the same grade. Of these kids, once-popular-but-now-pregnant Imogen had a major falling out with her best friend, Karen, who, when visiting one night to reclaim clothes Imogen borrowed, hands her mom a flyer for the 1999 NYE party that was taped to their door. The girls subsequently find Imogen’s mom has slashed her wrists in the bath and painted the letter ‘A’ in blood on the tiles.
A few months later, a more-pregnant Imogen is now living with Tabby and her mom (another member of the ’99 clique). They, along with ballerina Faran, be-ankle-monitored Noa, and shy nerd Mouse, receive detention for a series of strikes at Karen, who is the 1D bitch. The quintet become fast friends in their plot to take revenge against Karen, which starts a chain reaction of events that leads to the girl falling to her death during a school dance. Deja vu all over again.
The five girls each find themselves tormented by texts from ‘A’, who swears them to silence. Imogen saw a masked loon push Karen to her death but the girl’s father is the local sheriff and blames the five of them for driving her to suicide. Her identical twin sister, Kelly, meanwhile, makes moves to step into Karen’s shoes, socially and… uh… ballerina-ally.
Mucho Nancy Drewing occurs – road trips to an institution, exploring old houses, befriending a guy who lives on an abandoned train… Despite leaving the gate with bloody intentions, the body count soon grinds to a halt after a scant three murders, despite there being a buffet of asshole jocks to pick from, the moms, various staff members at the school… A side-mystery around two rapes comes into play, which the girls manage to use to defend themselves when the bully-hating killer comes-a-callin’.
Film geek Tabby talks in movie metaphors for most of her scenes, even presenting a class project on slasher movie conventions that goes into gender issues of the genre, which is interesting when she comes to making a flipped version of the Psycho shower scene, but given this speech and all her talk around the male gaze, to then forge ahead and adhere to so many cliches around women in horror displays the operational limitations – such as blaming the death of a girl on a group of girls, and them tormenting other girls on the back of it. Why couldn’t one of the kids been a boy? Why couldn’t a few of them be older or younger to mix it up a bit? Hell, just give us Handsome Little Liars, where a group of teen boys are hunted in payment for the death of another boy.
Bailee Madison, who handled final girl duties in The Strangers: Prey at Night, as Imogen, gets to scrap with the killer at the end in a good-but-is-it-too-late fight scene that highlights how sorely lacking this level of action horror has been over the preceding nine episodes. In this sense, the propositions of the first episode feel like broken promises, especially as things end with the door thrown wide open for another round, though not before an all-too-cosy scene in which all of the remaining principle characters sit around and count their blessings, getting back together, going to rehab, moving back from the city. Hallmark has a lot to answer for.
An okay show, wrapped up too swiftly, but it settled for merely flirting with slasher movie conventions rather than fully embracing them.