Unlike most of the anthologies, two aspects that make Just Beyond especially bingeable for the young audience, is that each episode is below 30 minutes and the sequence of the segments too is such that it gets better with each episode
Story: Based on RL Stine’s Boom! Studios graphic novels titled Just Beyond, the eight-episode anthology streaming on Disney+ Hotstar has tales with teens as protagonists dealing with ghosts, witches and even alternate realities, all of which serve as allegories to pertinent issues such as bullying, peer pressure, dealing with grief and anxieties.
Review: It's a tricky affair to come up with an anthology targeting a specific audience. That’s the challenge the makers of Just Beyond, which is based on Goosebumps and Fear Street author RL Stine’s Boom!, take up and mostly succeeds by telling stories about teenagers dealing with issues of their own through eight different tales and mashing it up with monsters, aliens, ghosts and witches.
Unlike most of the anthologies, two aspects that make Just Beyond especially bingeable for the young audience, is that each episode is below 30 minutes and the sequence of the segments too is such that it gets better with each episode.
The anthology kicks off with The Amazing Spider-Man and Gifted director Marc Webb’s short Leave Them Kids Alone, which has Mckenna Grace in the lead along with Nasim Pedrad. The segment deals with conditioning children and making them compliant to the norms, even those who stand out. The story is told through a School for Difficult Children. This is the weakest story in the anthology due to its predictable storyline and vapid presentation.
The second segment Parents Are From Mars, Kids Are From Venus too doesn’t offer too much to hold your interest and is a muddled, bland featurette about two kids who discover something odd about their parents. It’s also one of the two segments that have sci-fi elements thrown into the mix. But even the nod to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. doesn’t save this tale.
The anthology, however, picks up pace with Which Witch, starring a brilliant Rachel Marsh as a teenager with unique skills who tries to fit in with the normal crowd. The segment is packed with humour and also addresses relevant issues of embracing your identity and not falling prey to peer pressure.
The fourth episode – My Monster – is probably the creepiest and it makes sense as it’s about facing your fears. The segment revolves around Olivia, who moves to her mother’s hometown after her parents’ divorce. Olivia, who is already overwhelmed by change and anxiety, is then haunted by a masked giant. Apart from the depth of the script of the segment, the lead actors – Megan Stott and Elisha Heng – are a joy to watch.
Unfiltered is a modern, tech-driven take on Faust’s story about a smart teen who wishes to be pretty and popular like her other peers. A substitute teacher gives her access to a beauty app that lets her become beautiful but at a price. The featurette literally holds a mirror to a world where Instagram celebs are role models, and personalities and expectations change depending on the group you want to be part of.
Marc Webb returns to direct his second segment in the anthology with We’ve Got Spirits, Yes We Do and does a remarkable job of telling a story of social isolation through a teenager who gets trapped in a theatre full of ghosts of actors. Lexi Underwood is exceptional as Ella, who is hurt by her friends, but finally finds her voice and understands why it’s better to move on and not resentfully linger in the past. The story has humour and depth.
Standing Up For Yourself is hands down the best segment in Just Beyond. Almost spanning a clever but just version of Groundhog Day, the tale follows a bully named Trevor Larkin, whose father pretty much owns the town. However, after he beats up a specially-abled teen at school, Trevor’s life as well as those of the town transform. Presented entirely from the perspective of a bully, the episode also feels the most cinematic among the eight.
The final episode, The Treehouse, is about a teen, whose father had passed away a year ago. However, after lightning strikes his treehouse, he is transported to an alternate reality where he gets to meet his mother and father, but the only problem is that he is not their son in that universe. The poignant story talks about dealing with grief and also rebuilding lives.
Verdict: Among the eight, our top picks would be Stand Up For Yourself, We’ve Got Spirits, Yes We Do, My Monster and Which Witch – in that order. Considering that the episodes are below 30 minutes, it’s perfect for a weekend binge watch or quick watch during your break.