Just Beyond is a R.L. Stine Inspired Anthology
It is true, and we have come to realize it now, that there are far scarier things in this world than monsters, vampires or werewolves. Walter Jon Williams confirmed this when he said “I am [more] afraid of what real human beings do to real human beings”, and there is no better display of this than the 2021 Disney and 20th Century produced TV series Just Beyond.
This latest R.L. Stine inspired anthology of horror stories reveals a different kind of terror all the while exploring aspects of our daily lives and the carelessness of what is considered normal. For what is worse than a kid getting literally brainwashed at her parents request?
Just Beyond begins with 14 year old teenager Veronica Vandahill (Mckenna Grace), getting suspended for inciting a cheeseburger protest in the school’s cafeteria. She has just returned as an entirely different person from a long summer break and suddenly cares so much about climate change. She feels unfairly treated to have been suspended for championing what she calls her just course. “It’s up to my generation to fix the world,” she defends, but she feels even worse when her frustrated parents send her to a special school for well mannered girls.
Veronica, like all pouty rebellious teenagers who feel misunderstood, hates this school. At first glance, even the audience can tell something is seriously wrong. All the girls in this school are in the same uniforms, walking like royal stooges for the headmistress, unsmiling, unhappy, and have the same hairstyle. Veronica is convinced they are behaving so well mannered so as not to get in trouble, but she soon realizes they aren’t. Music, whistling and chewing gum are not allowed in this school. When Veronica asks why all the girls have on the same hairstyle, the headmistress claims it’s part of the uniform, then adds with a rather unsettling smirk “The young mind is a sponge. They come to us soaked in bad habits, we just squeeze it.”
Having had enough of being prim and proper to last her a lifetime, Veronica tries to escape on her second night in the boarding school. But she doesn’t go far before getting caught by another student named Claire. Claire is about Veronica’s age and no rat. She is willing to show Veronica why the other girls are so devoid of personality – they are being brainwashed by the headmistress and a weird looking hairdresser called Mr. Welch.
The part which stands out in this episode happens when Claire is asked why any parent would send their kids here and whether they are aware of what is happening. Claire replies “No, but they don’t question it either. They say they send us here because they say we’re acting out, or that we are troubled. I think they send us here because they are scared. They see us changing and growing up. We stop hugging them, talking to them, listening to them… now [I] don’t even know who I am anymore.”
This line in itself represents everything the anthology stands for. The first episode represents the norm of sending kids to behavior grooming boarding schools as punishment for disagreeing with them. It also reveals the scary, terrible things children must endure at the behest of their parents just to be pleasing.
The second episode, titled “Parents Are From Mars, Kids Are From Venus”, goes further to emphasize that when push comes to shove, parents and their children often act and think like beings two from different worlds, separated by millions, if not by billions of light years apart.
In this episode, two boys, Jack (Gabriel Bateman) and Ronald (Arjun Athalye), believe their parents to be weird for always trying to look and talk cool. At one time when Jack’s mother says, “Call us if you need us, later fools” and dabs out, we see the boys eye each other as if to say ‘see what I’m dealing with’. Even when Jack’s father asks him to join him grilling during a barbecue party, Jack refuses and is shocked later when his father pops by his room for a good old ‘You’re growing up now and your body is changing’ talk. Jack tells Ronald of this uncomfortable moment the next day and Ronald confesses the same. Ronald adds that his parents are stressing him out so much these days, he is developing a rash on his arm. Coincidentally, Jack has also developed a rash and this is not the only strange thing they would discover they share in the coming days. They soon suspect their parents of being aliens.
Attempting to extract DNA samples to confirm their suspicions, they are surprised by the announcement of a sudden joint family trip to the isolated Key Stone Lake. This is the kind of place they have been warned would be where the aliens would try to consume them. Jack and Ronald sweat profusely as the lake draws closer and their fathers start reaching for axes and knives with that Hannibal Lecter glint in their eyes. When they can run no longer, both boys are forced to confront their alien parents who do something worse than consume them. This episode should you dare to complete it, proves that in some ways, children are actually more like their parents than they realize.
Other episodes of the eight part TV series follows the same trend. These stories are not as scary as advertised. For keen followers of the R.L. Stine horror collections, Just Beyond is definitely not what you expect from the award winning gothic author of Night Of A Living Dummy (1993), The New Girl (1989), and The Wrong Number (1990). There is definitely something entirely Disney about the featured stories and how they end happily ever after. After all, Disney had a hand in its production.
Just Beyond is a horror collection that can be watched by the entire family. It has a tangle of frightful and relaxing stories mixed nicely together in a bowl of humor, spiced up with important lessons that will leave you thinking.
Overall, the best stories are those which do not merely entertain us, but point out however colorfully, the flaws within our society worth correcting and proffer solutions. Just Beyond does this in spades and remains true to its title. Not only do these stories depict family, growth and identity beyond our popular connotations of what ‘scary’ should look like, they go beyond the boundaries of traditional horror fiction; embroidered with humor, color and lessons that reflect our society back to us.
Just Beyond (2021) Official Disney Trailer