Review: In Sophia Takal's 'New Year, New You' on Hulu, Influencer Culture Goes Horror
You can be perfect. That’s the sinister promise sold to us by Instagram influencers and celebrity lifestyle gurus. But behind their bright smiles, flat bellies, and radiant skin lies the catch. You can be perfect just like me if you buy buy buy my brand. They give lip-service to self-care, self-love, and empowerment as a sales pitch to sell their shit, be it juice blends, make-up lines, or cancer-curing cootchie stones, because there’s a frightfully thin line between self-improvement and sociopathic narcissism. At least, that’s the premise of New Year, New You, Blumhouse’s latest entry for Hulu’s holiday-themed anthology horror series Into The Dark.
New Year, New You begins with Danielle, a social media celeb who has built her brand on “Very Very Veggie” juice blends, enviable Instagram posts, and self-love sales pitches. As the New Year approaches, she’s poised to make the leap from internet fame to TV personality with an upcoming talk show, Get Well Danielle. But first, she has to get through one wild reunion with her best friends from high school. They meet up in a swanky mansion that contains a sauna, a pool, and a lot of bad memories. As the night goes on, girl talk turns heated. Mud masks turn menacing. And Danielle (Carly Chaikin), Kayla (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), Alexis (Suki Waterhouse), and Chloe (Melissa Bergland) will face-off in a battle for their lives.
Like many a Blumhouse production, this horror film has a lean cast of characters and is chiefly set in one location. But unlike their other releases, this one boasts a female helmer in Sophia Takal, the writer/director of the mind-bending thriller Always Shine. Takal has previously shown a skill for turning cozy locations into traps of terror, and she does it again here. The mansion is luxurious. With a grand staircase, a spacious kitchen, and a bevy of mirrors, it looks the perfect place for a swanky girls’ night in. But her camera snags on some worrisome details, like the four knives glinting from a magnetic display bar, and the little mirrors turn sinister when their reflections cut the girls’ faces into pieces. Glances and smiles cut in two during the requisite group dance number. And with the mention of “hermetically sealed windows” because of an unspoken “accident,” the whole place begins to feel smaller, denser, and claustrophobic. This suffocating sensation intensifies as tensions rise, and split-screens confine characters to an even tighter aspect ratio as they race around this tenacious trap.
But what’s most enthralling about this lean and mean thriller is its characters. There’s something chillingly familiar in each. Chloe’s earnestness to make self-deprecating jokes, a laugh too quick and loud to convincingly hide the pain underneath. Kayla’s nervous smile as she rushes to forgive a frenemy, rather than confront a sneaky slight or flat-out lie. Alexis’s thousand-yard stare as she watches a beaming Danielle play to her camera for an Instagram video. And though Danielle’s vanity and narcissism make her a monster, there’s something to her that’s uncomfortably relatable too. Before our very eyes, we see her construct narratives that make her life more appealing for her perky social media persona. We see her rewrite her life for the likes. And maybe, we see ourselves, cut to pieces and leered at, as if New Year, New You is a shattered mirror reflecting our own bullshit.
As she did with Always Shine, Takal takes jealousy/female rivalry/and frenemies to an extreme end but ratchets up the tension and madness with such steadiness that it’s impossible to write it off as absurd. Her heroines are the frog in the slow boil pot, not aware of the danger until it’s too late. And we are their horrified witnesses, who fear not just the story unfolding, but also the dark truths at its core. The line between self-care and narcissism—or self-improvement and self-destruction—can be as blurry as that of friend and enemy. And in its shades of grey, great horror is possible, and perhaps, inevitable.
New Year, New You is now on Hulu.
Header Image Source: Hulu
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