Sophia Takal’s evil-influencers horror movie, ‘NEW YEAR, NEW YOU,’ is the perfect way to close out 2018
A review of Hulu & Blumhouse’s 4th installment of ‘Into the Dark’
For the past couple of months, Hulu has been releasing a series of horror films in partnership with Blumhouse (the studio responsible for The Purge, Get Out, Paranormal Activity, and a ton of other ultra-profitable films), under the series title Into the Dark. Each installment is themed to a holiday that falls in the month of release; October’s The Body was set on Halloween, November’s Flesh and Blood was about Thanksgiving, etc.
January’s film hit the streaming service this weekend, a few days before January, as its central holiday is the one that technically bridges two months. Sophia Takal’s New Year, New You is set during a particularly bloody New Years’ Eve sleepover, as three best friends figure out how to come to terms with the fact that the fourth member of their childhood friend group is now an ultra-famous online “influencer,” aka someone who makes lifestyle and self-help videos for YouTube and Instagram, to the adoration of millions (and to the tune of millions of dollars). Is Danielle, aka GetWellDanielle (the brilliantly dry Carly Chaikin) going to be the same girl they used to choreograph dances with for the school talent show? Is she a millionaire now? Has she hooked up with Leonardo DiCaprio? How can she sit in front of a camera and lie to the world, given the dark secrets that these friends know lurk in her past? And, how can they make her pay?
The first half of the film, as the four girls feel each other out, rehash old inside jokes, re-examine old slights and insults, and learn who each other are now, is a deviously successful little exercise in tension-building. Everyone is on their best behavior, simultaneously trying to impress each other with how great their lives are now, while also trying to prove to each other that they haven’t changed and are still the fun-loving weirdos they knew growing up.
Director Sophia Takal films much of this first half in close-up, asking us to examine her actresses’ faces for every little twitch of muscle, suggesting literal as well as symbolic tension lurking beneath the surface of every line of dialogue. The film’s standout Carly Chaikin honed her ability to deliver vapid, bitingly-satirical lines with an edge as Dalia on the criminally-underseen ABC sitcom Suburgatory, but her co-stars, especially Suki Waterhouse, almost match her line for line. I found Waterhouse to be rather anonymous in Assassination Nation, but she delivers here.
New Year, New You is interesting for how it occasionally mimics the visual language of the generic, aphorism-filled YouTube videos its character makes, but instead employs the shaky camerawork, wild zooms, frantic editing, and vocal overlaying to build tension and claustrophobia. See, for example, this series of reaction shots, right after Alexis (Waterhouse) drops a line that I won’t spoil here, which finally shatters the building discomfort and sends the film reeling in another direction for the remainder of its runtime. In another medium, like on YouTube or in a mockumentary comedy like Parks and Recreation, that wild reframing of the shot — like the cameraman went too far and missed his mark and had to jerk the camera back — would be funny, but here it reads like what’s just happened is so traumatic that it feels like the film itself has lost control.
Movies like this that are so specifically about a moment in culture are always going to be instantly dated, and New Year, New You leans into it, filling the New Years’ party with 2019 balloons and dialogue about 2018 coming to an end. This is a film that understands it’s about right now, and it wants you and future audiences to know it. It’s about the curious place we find ourselves in right now, two decades into the ubiquity of the Internet but a little more than a decade into social media, only a handful of years into the very concept of people becoming super-famous because they hold up desirable products in online videos and tell you to repeat things like “Nothing stands between me and all of my desires” as a way of “manifesting” your “best self.” We’re coming to terms with the first Internet troll President, after all. Is my online self my best self? Who are we when we’re online? Who are we when we’re offline but really want to be online? Who are we when we’re staring people in the eye, asking them to atone for the harm they’ve caused us, and all they want to do is put a camera or a screen between us?
Takal fills her film frame with other frames, fracturing her characters’ faces just as our identities have become ever more fractured by online personas that are increasingly impacting the real world. We see her characters looking at themselves in mirrors, glimpsed between banisters, through windows, in doorways, our view of them almost always reflected and distorted and refracted and mediated by the frame we’re watching them through, which is furthermore mediated by the browser window that we have Hulu playing on. Yes, this is a movie about sociopathic, murderous Instagram influencers, but it’s also about the way it’s impossible to know who you are or what you want for your future — or at the very least, how to make it happen — as 2018 bleeds into 2019.
I’ve enjoyed all of the Into the Dark films so far, but for its timely subject matter and the way its filming style complements and conveys those themes, I think this one is the best yet. Looking forward to seeing what’s next! Nothing stands between me and all of my desires… for more thoughtful, entertaining horror films like this one.