2 out of 5
Directed by: Sophia Takal
With Hulu’s / Blumhouse’s monthly horror holiday-centric ‘Into the Dark’ series, I’d been expecting – and maybe hoping for – B-ish DTS (yeah – direct-to-streaming; why not?) flicks with cheeky “It’s Thanksgiving!” nods and 90 minutes worth of passable entertainment. That was my bias. It was ceded to with the first two entries – The Body and Flesh & Blood – which I enjoyed. But given the reviews I subsequently read, my opinion (and maybe my bias) were in the minority.
A second bias: I haven’t been too impressed with Nacho Vigolando’s output. Images of Timecrimes were a lot more satisfying than the movie, and that can be extrapolated forward to Pooka, his Into the Dark entry. But here I diverged from reviews once more: Pooka seemed generally well-received, butting up against my feeling that it was a flick forcefully stuffed into its horror trappings.
And now we can take that last thought and apply it to Sophia Takal’s ‘New Year, New You,’ which is also getting a fairly warm reception, but also, for me, gets lumped into the series’ weaker offerings. That above half-and-half feeling is even more divisive here: as Takal starts building a potentially powerful thriller, pairing friends with viciously dividing opinions against one another on New Year’s Eve in a sorta-kinda locked house, but then hits the brakes hard with a sudden leap into knife-wielding viciously dividing opinions. The film coasts down a shallow decline from there, landing easily on astro-turf with a middle finger stinger of an epilogue.
The frustration is that the look and sound of the film are superb: employing copious reflections and split-screens, a pleasantly sharp grain from cinematographer Lyn Moncrief, and given the pair-off of lead actresses Carly Chaikin (playing a beauty tips streaming star on the rise) and Suki Waterhouse (playing an emotionally distraught failed / retired actress), I was very much reminded of de Palma’s Sisters, but not to the point of pastiche. Takal’s drifting frames and allowing for the image to be naturally divided by mirrors is confident, and alluring. Matched with Michael Montes’ smart, minimalist, string-focused score, it all acts as great synchronicity with the Things Left Unsaid between Chaikin’s and Waterhouse’s characters, both playing something of predictable stereotypes, but playing them very well. And Takal holds this tension for a while – twenty, thirty minutes or so – leaving past events as only glimpses of sound and image… and then those damn brakes.
“Right. It’s a horror film,” one can imagine the sudden reminder alarm-bell as warning, and then the last 2/3rds of the script are scrapped and rearranged as that B-movie style I’d asked for, but with auteur overrides that cause it to falter – that require reminding us that this movie is about the shallowness of image – turning it into an illogical (and we’re talking in-movie logical) and, itself, shallow, mess.
I can generally tell something about a show or movie by how easy it is for me to hit pause. Which I couldn’t for the film’s first section… but then could, multiple times, as soon as the flick hit its first turn.
I can understand and appreciate Blumhouse’s desire to push the series into a more review-friendly format, but I do hope for my enjoyment’s sake that they do so in a way that finds a true balance with the horror genre (and note: I would’ve been fine with an entire psychological thriller; that still fits the bill) in which these things are meant to take place.