Ben’s Breakdown | “Secrets of Sulphur Springs” Three Episode Thoughts

The Campbell family has moved from Chicago to a small town and taken up residence in an abandoned resort hotel that the father has purchased so that they can renovate and reopen it. There is just one small problem. The residents of the small town recognize the hotel as being both cursed and haunted by the ghost of a young girl named Savannah Dillon. The Campbell’s oldest son, Griffin, has almost immediately become good friends with a classmate named Harper Dunn, and together they start to explore the mystery of both the hotel as well as the legend of Savannah. What they discover is that Griffin’s father and Harper’s mother have been lying about their past as well as their connection to Savannah.

This appears to be an original streaming series for Disney+ so it is important to understand that this is a mystery/fantasy series aimed at pre-teens. The writing betrays that in terms of story development as well as the characterizations of the show’s primary players. So, if any critical review is to be done it must be through that pre-teen lens.

After only three episodes I did find the story to be simple, and yet engaging. What isn’t more interesting to pre-teenagers than the idea of a ghost story and a mystery surrounding the ghost. It did take some surprising turns that suggest it was aimed for today’s pre-teen audience with a greater sense of sophistication than other works, at least in terms of the plot. By the time we get to the second episode, a new wrinkle is added to the series that is a bit of a mysterious MacGuffin. How this new element to the story manages to exist has no explanation, but it does advance both the characters of Griffin and Harper and possibly even their parents in terms of unraveling the greatest mystery that the town has seen. It’s a bit of a cheat, but given that this is a pre-teen series it can be attributed to simply being “plotonium.” By the end of the third episode, some serious questions are raised about the mystery behind Savannah’s disappearance (and presumed death) as well as the secret Griffin’s dad and Harper’s mom are trying to keep.

The cast is mostly unremarkable but solid. Most of them are good working actors, but the focus is on our young group of actors, especially Preston Oliver as Griffin and Kyliegh Curran as Harper. These two have quite a heavy load in terms of carrying the weight of the story as well as on-screen presence. Young Oliver is a good actor. In fact, he’s almost too good. He displays a range of very subtle behaviors and responses that make him almost precocious. If had been someone in his mid to late teen years then perhaps his performance as Griffin might be more believable. It’s hard to imagine someone who is 12 or 13 to have that sophisticated means of expression and it’s slightly off-putting. Perhaps he is written this way to give young viewers something to latch on to.

Making up the other half of this investigative duo we have young Curran and she is a delight. Some might think that she’s overly filled with confidence to the point of being reckless or arrogant. I would dispute that. What I see is a young girl who has a complete sense of self. Curran plays Harper as a person who knows fully who she is and doesn’t need anyone else to define that. If young viewers today are looking for role-models in movies or television, I would point them to Harper Dunn, and Curran deserves plenty of credit for bringing Harper to life.

The series is simple and enjoyable. I have not watched past episode 3 so I don’t know if the quality of the series holds up, but what has been presented is intriguing enough to make me want to continue with Secrets of Sulphur Springs.

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