2 out of 5
Directed by: Clara Aranovich
Into the Darks, after two seasons worth of holiday(-ish)-themed episodes, have proven to have a general problem of marrying the intended horror genre to… anything else. Some entries just have fun with it, which are the ones I think I’ve enjoyed the most, but then there are way too many in which writers / directors have more serious intentions of crafting something enduring, or perhaps even including some kind of “message,” and budget and time constraints seem to very much limit the former, while the latter has just made for some rather obnoxious and clunky flicks. In both cases, though, we seem to go down a rabbit hole in which the main thrust of the film is something other than horror, and then the bloody elements are tossed in at the last moment.
Tentacles, a Valentine’s Day offering, at least reverses that formula – it does seem to be a horror / thriller first – but the ol’ budget problem prevents its Bigger Ideas from being realized too effectively, and its explorations of obsession are muddled, making it thematically confusing and its pacing very uneven.
A cold open presents Tara (Dana Drori) frantically protecting herself in her house from someone or something assailing from outside. That entity bursts its way in, and we see it in shadow, including… a tentacle.
This is, unfortunately, problematic from the start. We pick back up with Tara in her car, no worse for wear, going to house showings so she can fake interest while actually hunting for a place to sleep at nights. This means that scene we just saw is either a flash-forward, which would be an attempt to drum up interest in whatever that tentacle was but also simultaneously deflates that tension – any new stranger in Tara’s life may have a tentacle – or it’s a flash-back, in which case, okay, mysterious past, but Tara is obviously A-Okay. Director Clara Aranovich and writers Nick Ancosta and Alexandra Pechman try to play this both ways, as Tara falls in with mopey cute guy Sam (Casey Deidrich), whose drinking might make prone to outbursts… and then once the two shack up in their own fixer-upper house, Tara starts receiving calls from a man, warning that he’s found her, and she is obviously disturbed by those calls. But the push-and-pull dynamics between our couple, perhaps intended to bump this in to erotic thriller territory, never really “push” or “pull” and just kind of stumble, and Sam’s sad past and Tara’s “don’t worry about it!” reaction to her phone stalker come across as fill-in-the-blank affectations / plot devices, and not real expressions of character. Dreamy mutterings about love and relationships are overlain on the falling-in-love montage; Tentacles’ creators use this to skip the beats where the relationship apparently changes from happy-go-lucky to all-consuming, and the beef Sam starts to have with longtime friend Esther (Kasey Elise) seems to come from nowhere.
However, once we’ve made that transition (which is a good halfway in to the flick, though), Tentacles can settle in to its weirder, creepier half, and this is sold much more effectively. Tara’s behaviors start to get increasingly weird and aggressive, and Sam is led to details on her past that form an odd backstory… There are definitely some cool ideas here, although they also feel a bit dated in terms of how relationships are often pictured in horror and thrillers. I sense there were attempts at modernizing this, but this time, since the message isn’t the forefront, those attempts are way subsumed by further settings up the creepiness, thereby creating something of the tonal muddle. But at least the horror feels like a main focus this time, and not an afterthought.
The other habit Into the Darks have had is not knowing how to conclude things, and Tentacles commits that as well. By this point, though, some poor effects (again – time and budget) and rushed end-game decisions have likely already caused a viewer to check out.