For a family trying to make an isolated farmhouse into a home, fear and rage are getting harder to control in a primal short story by the New York Times bestselling author of Whisper Network and Cutting Teeth.
The Strauss family is on knife’s edge. Sam is a resentful stay-at-home dad. Rachel feels the restlessness in her blood returning. Their children are getting out of hand. And a recent mudslide has forced the wolves out of the woods to look for food. As dusk falls and tensions rise, the family must come together to survive the night—from the threats outside and those within.
Chandler Baker’s Big Bad is part of Creature Feature, a collection of devilishly creepy stories that tingle the spine and twist the mind. They can be read or listened to in one petrifying sitting.
Alas, we have finally arrived at my final review of Amazon’s Creature Feature Collection. Like the last story I reviewed, this is my introduction to Chandler Baker’s work. “Big Bad” reads like a domestic thriller with the stakes exponentially higher given the troubling overtones that something dark is afoot. Switching between multiple POVs, we follow a family with many irons in the fire so to speak. Odette and June open the story with a debate as to whether their father, Sam, is good or bad. However, this seemingly youthful banter among children carries a darker presence. Tensions are additionally high between their mother and father, Sam and Rachel. But not all is as it seems once you start throwing an encroaching wolf population and an unanticipated AirBnB guest into the mix.
If it sounds like there is a lot going on in this story, that would be because there is. The feeling of tension is palpable from the outset of the story, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Immediately the children in this story call into question the morality of their own parents, establishing a possibly unreliable narrator dynamic. From there, we are privy to Rachel and Sam’s respective grievances and frustrations. Again, this starts out not unlike a domestic thriller. Here’s where things begin to bleed into horror territory.
The outside forces of the family unit are what really drive this story into the next gear. Two issues arise at once: a strange man, Harold, arrives at the Strauss home claiming he has a reservation to stay there, and the local wolf population makes itself known given the recent environmental factors that have driven them closer to civilization. Harold is not easily sent away, which initially seems like more of a reflection of Sam’s character who is the one to readily dismiss him. That’s the brilliance of this story; Baker subverts our expectations not in one grand way but rather in minuscule, subtle nods. On top of these occurrences, Rachel is scheduled to leave home just for a “business trip.” The problem with this? The suitcases are empty. By this point, it is blatantly obvious there is so much wrong, but where do you even begin to theorize exactly what’s going on with this much happening?
This overwhelming sense of dread is the defining feature of “Big Bad.” There’s lots to be spoiled with this one so I’ll stop commenting on direct events here. However, once I did piece together where the story was moving, I was completely hooked. I don’t know what it is about this particular trope that shall not be named, but it just really works for me. The ending is not without violence and is not afraid to venture into disastrous territory. Baker maintains the essence of a domestic thriller interwoven with horror, leaving one aspect of the conclusion a bit ambiguous. It just really worked for me.
“Big Bad” exists well within the confines of the Amazon Creature Feature Collection and as a standalone. I was actually waiting for this monster to be involved in some kind of way with this collection, and I’m so glad it was executed in this manner. Chandler Baker interlaces a tragic domestic thriller with horror elements we all know and love. The tension and unsure nature of the dynamics between each character lend themselves to an excellent narrative. Reviewing these stories has been such a treat, and as I’ve said before, I desperately hope we get another collection next year.