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January 11, 2019

‘New Year, New You’ Review: Sophia Takal Takes on Internet Celebrity Culture for Hulu’s ‘Into the Dark’

new year new you review

Blumhouse’s 2019 starts by taking one companywide step forward with their latest Into The Dark chapter. After critical reports identified a striking gender differential between The House Of Toby’s horror director hires, after Jason Blum’s interesting-at-best response, Sophia Takal becomes the brand’s first female filmmaker (*on a horror title*) with New Year, New You. In this entry: Instagram celebrity culture roasted on a spit and stuffed with false personality rage that mocks the charades some enact to seek mass marketed attention.

Takal and co-scribe Adam Gaines reunite childhood friends for what should be a New Year’s Eve celebration filled with bubbly libations and juicy catch-up gossip. Alexis (Suki Waterhouse) offers her parents’ soon-to-be-sold house since the familiar scenery deserves a final goodbye. Joining is newly out-of-the-closet Kayla (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), sassy and lonely Chloe (Melissa Bergland), and now famous wellness icon Danielle (Carly Chaikin) – or, as her followers know her, “Get Well Danielle.” Kayla and Chloe arrive first, keeping spirits high, but when Danielle appears, it’s evident that Alexis harbors some resentment over her friend’s cult-like success. Maybe Danielle isn’t the cosmically aligned image of perfection her vlogs promote?

Worth noting is how through four episodes of Blumhouse and Hulu’s holiday horror anthology there exists a lack of said “horror.” New Year, New You mirrors this trend by aligning with spunky in-house comedic sensation Happy Death Day. No slasher villain though, nor prosthetic creatures, just Takal’s dissection of a digital disease infecting smartphones to tablets to laptops worldwide. Anyone can be whoever they want with a positive attitude, precise editing, and brushed-up beauty filters. All fun and games until you amass millions of followers who take your every word as gospel; martyrs praise mere humans as cosmopolitan deities because of a few savvily staged selfies.

Danielle’s progression from “Very Very Vegetable” juice pusher to unstoppable egomaniac highlights how false idolization has overtaken our culture. Glowing screens replace reality for those unable to holster their devices more than fifteen seconds. An anecdote about a follower suffering from painful boils highlights how users would rather seek out “Get Well Danielle” – an personality concocted by a pretty face – over medical professionals, even though Danielle’s methods reach no further than Google searches. On social media, people become who others want them to be. Imagine if Jim Jones had a Twitter profile?

As the night proceeds, Alexis and Danielle square off over a dark tragedy from their past and accusations over who bullied an unstable classmate to the point of suicide. Danielle, an online proprietor of peaceful chakras, is this serpent-tongued viper with blood on her hands. “New year, new you!” represents how Danielle tries to escape her malicious past and become the internet’s premiere wellness goddess. To Alexis, “New year, new you!” relates to exposing Danielle for the fraud she is. Blend in some kidnapping beats like Danielle being restrained using “2-0-1-9” number balloons, and Takal stays thematically on brand. New years are supposed to be about starting fresh, but Alexis and Danielle’s nightmare regresses change.

Takal splatters jealously, self-fulfillment, manipulation, and psychosis against a glittery January canvas. Chloe – foul-mouthed, party-away-my-sorrows Chloe – represents the exact type of person Danielle preys upon. Still living at home, no boyfriend, a dead-end career, and in desperate need to hear that she’s special. Kayla represents who we should be, caught up between Alexis and Danielle’s feud to the point where she pleads sanity with Alexis. “Why don’t you just stop looking at her page if it bothers you!” Easy, right? Now recount all the times you’ve masochistically stalked an ex or bitterly scanned vacation photos of your arch nemesis. These are common, toxic practices now commonplace in society. New Year, New You does well to distill these disturbing norms into four main characters.

Not to be ignored are cinematography choices and editing notes that work on Hulu’s smaller scale. Alexis’ post-traumatic flashbacks don’t hide her instabilities or how something tragic changed this group of friends forever. Foreshadowing lingers focus on four hanging kitchen knives or a collection of golf clubs (for later usage). While Danielle’s tied up, Alexis smears on makeup that resembles a colorful clown face – slathering a thick mask as Danielle *still* spouts the same “I am in control of my own destiny” perversion. Takal utilizes mirrors to the same effect as her stunning debut Always Shine and employs split-screen fades to juxtapose at-odds characters in the same frame. More thought went into New Year, New You’s staging than most put into their own New Year’s resolutions, showcasing Takal’s astute eye for cinematic detail.

If we’re to single out Alexis’ broiling vendetta and the film’s climatic rise, more development could have lifted Waterhouse’s jilted wannabe actor whose mental breakdowns canceled such fantasies. Waterhouse plays nice only for a short time, before attacking Danielle over “whoreish” celebrity hookups (Silicon Valley moguls) and past mistakes. Chaikin’s Danielle is ever the angel-haired divine leader with devilish intentions, especially once tides turn and imprisonment transitions into a two-on-two hunt throughout a homely mansion complete with sauna room. Nothing will stand in the way of Danielle’s success, as her slippery dictation convinces others to do her bidding. “You’re good at this,” Chloe tells Danielle. Indeed – Chaikin’s radiant YouTube self-help puppetmaster fits her batting eyes and perfect complexion.

What New Year, New You says about bleary eyes obeying an unvetted stranger’s words as gospel is far scarier than the battle afoot. Kills get a bit gory thanks to knife play, but scares are nowhere to be found. Instead, appreciate Sophia Takal’s simmering long takes as Danielle verbally molds Chloe into the perfect minion while the camera hovers outside over a rain-splashed swimming pool. Scenes are well-set even if aggression only reaches so far, but concerning Into The Dark’s young roster, New Year, New You is a favorably dangerous soirée worth a brisk 80ish minutes of persuasive party paranoia.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

The post ‘New Year, New You’ Review: Sophia Takal Takes on Internet Celebrity Culture for Hulu’s ‘Into the Dark’ appeared first on /Film.

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