Into the Dark – New Year, New You
Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Carly Chaikin, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Melissa Bergland
Director: Sophia Takal
Writer: Sophia Takal, Adam Gaines
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
When Hulu announced that it would release a horror anthology revolving around various holidays throughout the year, I immediately thought of the cool stories they’d be able to do with Halloween, Christmas, heck, even Easter! To be honest, New Year’s Eve didn’t really pop out as one that would ooze horror. Maybe it’s because it’s never really been serviced that way. Let’s face it, New Year’s Eve is a time where we remember the year that’s come to an end while welcoming the new one with open arms. Well, clearly disagreeing with this is Sophia Takal, the director behind this month’s entry for the Into the Dark horror anthology.
New Year, New You stars Suki Waterhouse as Alexis, who’s about to put her childhood house up for sale. But before doing so, she plans on hosting one last intimate New Year’s Eve party for her and her high school best friends. She’s been staying in touch with Kayla (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and Chloe (Melissa Bergland), who arrive first and talk as if nothing was out of place. However, Danielle’s (Carly Chaikin) presence is questionable. Having left town years ago to make her fortune selling health juice, there are hints of a falling out. But, surprise, surprise, she shows up!
The movie is a tale told in two genres. In the first two thirds, it’s a gripping drama where the tension is slowly released. There’s history between these women, especially Alexis and Danielle. An unaddressed issue is stemming from their past which is teased via murky looking flashbacks, is lurking, ready to pounce. (Could this be the reason she has that facial scar?) As the evening progresses, the women consume wine and champagne, loosening the restraints on the biting comments. Danielle talks to them as though running a self-help session to be posted on her social media platform, which only serves to heighten the frustration and the tension. But it’s while playing a game of Never Have I Ever that things come to a head. At this point, the movie changes to its second genre.
The third act of the movie is completely bonkers. The long-gestating jealousies and resentments finally burst out, like the cork of a champagne bottle that’s been shaken just for good measure. Blood begins to flow, and allegiances change. It happens so quickly. It’s rather jolting. And it doesn’t let up until the end. It’s unnerving and unreal. But maybe that’s the point of the movie. Perhaps Takal is commenting on the dangers of bottling up our true selves as we desperately try to be like others. Perhaps this culture of influence where people, especially younger ones, try to emulate YouTubers, Instagramers or any popular social media person, may seem innocent but is ultimately damaging.
The acting is brilliant. All four women perform remarkably. Suki Waterhouse displays a wave of growing underlying anger with precision. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish as she’s in practically every scene for those first sixty minutes. But the stages are noticeable, and when she finally bursts, it’s terrifying. Melissa Bergland provides a nice alternative to the calm, nice friends. Her sarcasm is well placed and hilarious. Kirby Howell-Baptiste is the quietest of the four, not necessarily by choice, but by script necessity. Having redundancy of character would have unbalanced the interactions. She’s got a calming influence and is the voice of reason, feeling they may have gone a little too far in their choices. And lastly, there’s Carly Chaikin. Underneath that surface, that perfect image she’s been working on for years lies something even more terrifying than any of the other three could have imagined.
Confining the action exclusively inside the house worked out well. This culture of influence leads to a homogenization of the characteristics that make people different. This loss of individuality, loss of colorfulness and celebration of our differences, is excellently portrayed by the house. It’s a nice, luxurious one that is practically surgically clean. But there’s very little personality. You’d be hard pressed to describe what it looks like after watching the episode. And that’s the point because just like people hiding their true identity beneath these imitations, so too is the past of the house hiding behind the bland, nice looking walls. But the past is notorious for rearing its ugly head when one least expects it. Similarly, the true nature of these women can’t remain hidden either. What Takal accomplished is brilliant.
The story is good, but the episode looks good too. Takal tries to give this entry a unique feel, at least compared to the other three. Though confined within the space of a house, she uses exaggerated movement by zooming in to places or on people. At times, she uses a split screen method, but with a slight scrapbook feel, like looking at an old yearbook. And the murkiness covering the flashbacks is perfect to show something terrible took place, yet not enough for us to plainly see, at least not until the third act. Her use of filming through mirrors was clever. Showing the action from the reflection served to clarify that we were finally seeing the true nature of these characters.
New Year, New You is a solid indictment on the nature of this culture of influence, unattainable perfection, and obsession with posting all things filtered. And maybe that’s the real horror of this episode. Social media bullies so many people into trying to attain the impossible, with serious and sometimes tragic consequences. But the third act turns the tables on the drama and serves up traditional, albeit weird, horror we should expect in this horror anthology.
New Year, New You is an excellent entry. Focusing on this underused holiday, especially for horror, is brilliant. It’s no coincidence that Takal chose the toll of midnight to change the tone of the episode – the moment when all those suppressed feelings finally erupt. The way these four women chip away at each other, the unpredictable shifts in alliances, the attack on social media and its shallow emphasis on self-care make this an odd entry, but one that is a must watch. The new year is always a time for resolutions, including dieting and exercising. But maybe, just maybe, the accumulation of unmet resolutions frustrates to the point where an explosive reaction is the only eventual outcome.