★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Blumhouse’s first female director hits it out of the park.
Directed by Sophia Takal.
Blumhouse’s latest TV production, Into the Dark, premiered on Hulu back in October. The show will be putting out a new feature-length episode on a monthly basis — which basically means we get a brand new Blumhouse horror movie every single month! Each installment will be more or less tied to a holiday appropriate to that month. With three episodes released so far, they have:
- “The Body” (October 5, 2018) – A sophisticated hitman with a cynical view on modern society finds his work made more difficult when he has to transport a body on Halloween night.
- “Flesh & Blood” (November 2, 2018) – A teenager suffering from agoraphobia has not left the house since her mother’s unsolved murder. On the eve of Thanksgiving, she begins to suspect that the safe harbor of home and her doting father may be a dangerous mirage.
- “Pooka” (December 7, 2018) – A struggling actor takes on a job for the Christmas season as the mascot for the year’s hottest new toy: Pooka. However, after putting the costume on, he develops two personalities – one for himself, and one for Pooka.
I’d been meaning to dive Into the Dark for a while now (see what I did there?). So, when the chance to get a sneak peek at their fourth episode, “New Year New You”, came around I jumped on it.
As the title suggests, “New Year New You” centers around a New Year’s Eve get together for four women who have been friends since high school. Alexis [Suki Waterhouse; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)], a wannabe actor whose dreams never materialized, gets the house ready with her two local friends, Chloe [Melissa Bergland; TV’s Winners & Losers (2011 – 2016)] and Kayla [Kirby Howell-Baptiste; TV’s Killing Eve (2018)], and the trio await the arrival of the most successful member of their high school quartet, Danielle.
“Get Well” Danielle [Carly Chaikin; TV’s Mr. Robot (2015 – 2019)] has become a very popular social media star with her health & wellness/life coach blog and she’s about to be given her very own TV show. With her arrival, the group of friends is complete and the New Year’s celebration begins.
However, as the night wears on, party games give way to past traumas and old wounds. What started out as a fun gathering of old friends, devolves into murderous chaos reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies”.
Director Sophia Takal hit the ground running. Not only is she Blumhouse’s first female director, but “New Year New You” is the first time she wasn’t working with her own material. As she told IndieWire:
This was my first time working as a director-for-hire. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to the project, but they trusted me.
It was [also] my first time working with producers other than my friends. I’d assumed, as a female director, people would undermine me and no one would trust me, but everyone was really supportive. Their notes are so helpful. They’re not annoying executive notes.IndieWire. Dec. 7, 2018
Fans of her previous work, Always Shine (2016), will notice quite a few parallels. Not the least of which is how both are “in the vein of hysterical women horror movies,” as she describes it. Jealousies, insecurities, and self-doubt run rampant until something snaps and things go off the rails.
However, where Always Shine takes a more arthouse approach verging on the almost psychedelic, “New Year New You” keeps itself grounded and is much more accessible. Not that Takal doesn’t sprinkle in her trademark micro-flashbacks here and there to give the audience agonizingly brief glimpses of the Bad Thing that happened in the past, but the timeline of the movie holds steady.
All four women brought their A-game as far as acting is concerned, but it was Carly Chaikin’s portrayal of Danielle that really made the movie. Frankly, starting out, she’s super annoying. The cliché vapid social media “influencer” enamored of her own pseudo-wisdom. But, as the slow burn of “New Year New You” heats up, we begin to see the real Danielle; expertly manipulative, darkly intelligent, and with the cold charm of a cult leader. Watching Chaikin’s shift from one to the other was a thing of beauty.
Lyn Moncrief’s cinematography is top notch. With the usual Blumhouse frugality, the entire episode was shot in a single location — a large, beachfront house in Santa Monica that once belonged to Cary Grant — and Moncrief is able to keep everything interesting even when we’re seeing the same rooms over and over.
As I briefly mentioned, this episode of Into the Dark is very much a slow burn. It’s a character driven study in tension and Takal takes her own sweet time with the initial build-up before getting into all the action. All that great character work pays off in the end, of course, so it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Is “New Year New You” a commentary on social media personalities? Is it holding up a hyperbolic mirror to the problem of women not supporting other women? However it strikes you, Sophia Takal’s first foray as a Blumhouse director is the best Into the Dark episode yet.
“New Year New You” will be available for streaming on December 28th so it’s time to dust off that Hulu account and see for yourself.
Happy New Year!