At New York Comic Con 2019 (NYCC) Facebook Watch, Facebook’s fledgling video-on-demand service, added a brand new horror series just in time for Halloween. Set in a small wooded town on the outskirts of Oregon, The Birch tells the tale of supernatural revenge. Per the official synopsis, “The lives of three teenagers intersect around the presence of a blood-thirsty monster lurking in the woods, the Birch. Sworn to protect the vulnerable wherever she is summoned, the Birch demands a dangerous toll for her services. Our heroes grapple with the grim realities of making her acquaintance – both as friend and foe.”
The Birch features a fantastic cast of young actors. Xaria Dotson (American Vandal) sets the series in motion as Evie Grayson, while Midori Francis (Good Boys, Ocean’s Eight, Gotham) plays teen mother Lanie Bouchard. Dempsey Bryk (Black Mirror, The Silence) rounds out the main cast as Thurston Polk, the teenage drug dealer whose violent crimes set The Birch in motion. Over the course of the series, three teens’ lives become entwined in the creeping terror of “The Birch.”
While you can watch the first three episodes of The Birch now, I got the chance to preview the whole series at NYCC. So I can confidently say The Birch is an excellent fun-sized snack for your Halloween season. The series mixes emotionally intense storytelling with a creeping sense of horror, creating an oppressive atmosphere where nowhere is safe. Some of that comes from the series’s titular monster. But the Birch absolutely nails its depiction of small-town cruelty. As scary as The Birch maybe, humans are so much worse.
So it should come as no surprise that in a show with no safe haven, its protagonists come from the town’s most vulnerable positions. Nicknamed “Creepy Evie”, Dotson’s character finds constant harassment wherever she goes. Bullies assault her while her classmates treat her as a joke for her the ‘witchy weird girl’ ways. The threat facing Francis’s Lanie, on the other hand, comes from her own family. After a teenage love affair results in a pregnancy, Lanie’s parents pull her out of school and lock her away in her own home. Isolated, abused, and gaslit by those around them, is it any wonder these girls turn to the supernatural for help?
Speaking of, let’s talk about the series’ titular terror, The Birch. I love this monster design, which twists vegetation into a bizarre mockery of human anatomy. She’s one scary mama nature, and when she lets loose it’s a sight to see. The creature’s decidedly feminine design stands out in the boy’s club of monster design. As an agent of revenge, The Birch appears as both predator and protector, depending on whose side of the story you follow.
When it comes to stories meant to give you scare, sometimes less is more. Even the most gruesome of monsters can overstay their welcome. The Birch doesn’t have this problem. At a tight 15-17 minutes per episode, the series spares no time for preamble before launching viewers into its nightmare. As someone with a loaded schedule, I loved the show’s bite-sized portions. The Birch hits the sweet spot of being long enough to hook your attention and develop a story. But they’re just the right length that you can fit an entire episode into an on a lunch-break or train ride.
The Birch is produced by Crypt TV with Jack Davis, Kate Krantz, and Darren Brandl as executive producers. Episodes of The Birch are written by J. Casey Moderno, Dylan Mulick and David Aslan and directed by John William Ross and Amy Wang. You can catch all episodes of The Birch for free on Facebook Watch, 1-3 episodes dropping each week in October.