[Review] "Into the Dark: Flesh and Blood" gives us tasty family themes to chew on, but isn't very filling
(By Matt Konopka) With October now over and rotting pumpkins being introduced to trash cans, it means it’s time to say goodbye to spooky fun and hello to awkward family meals on Thanksgiving! For most, the holiday is a time to enjoy good food and listen to grandpa talk about how Rock and Roll killed America, but for others, it’s a time of forced family interaction, where tension is the appetizer and secret frustrations reveal themselves as the main course. Episode two of Into the Dark: Flesh and Blood, attempts to demonstrate just how awful some of those secrets can be…
…Created by Blumhouse in a partnership with Hulu, Into the Dark is a unique sort of anthology series, releasing one FEATURE LENGTH episode every month, all having some sort of connection to a holiday/event during said month. Flesh and Blood, directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine remake) and written by Louis Ackerman, bases itself around, of course, Thanksgiving. We follow Kimberly (Diana Silvers), a teenage girl whose mother was murdered a year ago. Now terrified of the outside world, Kimberly suffers from agoraphobia, a psychological condition which makes her extremely dizzy/paranoid every time she steps outside, keeping her trapped in the house with her father, Henry (Dermot Mulroney). The two have a good relationship, but as Thanksgiving approaches and frustrations over Kim’s condition build, Kim begins to learn that her father may not be the man she thinks he is.
With this second entry, Into the Dark has made it clear that every episode will be its own meal, completely unrelated in any sense of the word to previous entries. While the series’ first episode, The Body, was a tongue in cheek, outrageous gore fest, Flesh and Blood is of the deadly serious, psychological horror variety. Because of Kimberly’s condition and her medication, we’re set-up with the idea that everything Kimberly believes, every ounce of sinister darkness she thinks she’s unveiling, could all be a horrific manipulation of her mind.
Kimberly is, in a sense, the epitome of your average teenager. Freshly turned 17, Kim has a fear of leaving her home, yet a frustration and mistrust of adult figures, especially her father. Of course, most kids her age fear leaving home for financial reasons, and don’t think their parents are stab-happy murderers, but you get the idea. Adolescence is a tough age. Period. All of us go through it. I couldn’t wait to escape the trapped feeling I had in my parent’s house, but the idea of stepping out into the world was simultaneously crippling at times. This is why Kimberly is such a relatable character. Her beliefs, though exaggerated, at their core are feelings that are not only understandable, but ones that a lot of us have dealt with. Silvers is utterly believable as the character as well, because even though Kim suffers from so much despair, Silvers never overplays the role. She is timid though determined, angry yet restrained, and for the most part, treats the role as if Kimberly is just your average person, which she is. Ackerman deserves credit for a script which feels no need to exaggerate Kim’s condition and turn her into a maniac. Alternatively though, Mulroney is just the opposite as Henry. There is nothing subtle about his performance in Flesh and Blood. At first this threw me off, because it can be laughable at times how unbelievable Mulroney can be when trying to explain to Kim that he is not a killer, but the more I thought about it, it’s actually an exceptional performance, because it leads us to wonder how reliable Kim’s viewpoint is. Henry consistently gaslights Kim to such a villainous extent, it’s impossible NOT to think he’s a murderous asshole, or, worse, that Kim, and to an extent, the audience, is wrong about him. The performance forces us to ask, would he really be THAT obvious if he in fact was the murderer Kim thinks he is?
Lussier and Ackerman do everything they can to set the stage for a struggle between mental health and family. Kim’s agoraphobia is only a small piece of the puzzle. By setting Flesh and Blood around the anniversary of the death of Kim’s mother, and just before Thanksgiving no less, a holiday that primarily revolves around a celebration of family, the filmmakers present a strong theme of family love and the unsteady foundation which holds it up. The home in which Kim has secluded herself to is in a constant state of disrepair, with Henry tirelessly working on renovations. The internal chaos is representative of Kim’s broken mind. She has trapped herself, well, within herself, and once she begins to suspect that her dad is not only killing young women, but murdered her mother as well, the realization threatens to completely destroy Kim, since she has put her life into the hands of her father and this crumbling house that she refuses to leave at the cost of her own sanity.
Flesh and Blood is not a particularly exciting piece. Lussier goes to great lengths to build up the tension all the way to what we begin to see early on is the inevitable conclusion. Like prepping a turkey, Flesh and Blood is a slow process, going on for what seems like forever to get to the juicy meat of the plot. That isn’t to say the film is necessarily boring-on a psychological level, it’s fascinating-but without much horror to chew on until the final act, and little interaction for Kim except with her father, there simply isn’t a whole lot going on other than Kim continuously searching her house for clues to prove who she thinks her dad may be. Flesh and Blood can feel much longer than its short run time of ninety minutes. However, where the film falters in excitement, it excels in suspenseful anticipation. We spend most of Flesh and Blood waiting for the reveal we think is coming, and when the answer is finally made clear, it comes in an explosive “oh shit” moment. Lussier is also careful to plant various plot devices which the audience knows we will come back to, but which Lussier decides to make us wait for, like an earring left on the floor that we know will lead to something, but that we don’t get immediate satisfaction from. Flesh and Blood is excellent in keeping us waiting, and often rewards our patience.
There is one problem though which keeps Lussier’s masterful manipulation of suspense from being as effective as it could be: Flesh and Blood is, unfortunately, fairly predictable. It didn’t take long for me to realize where this film was going, and at a certain point, cleverly placed plot devices become less surprising, and more like that feeling when your obnoxious cousin jumps out from behind the corner you knew they were hiding around and shouts “boo”, and all you can do is sigh and say, “you got me”. It’s also a bit disappointing that Kim’s agoraphobia has little to nothing to do with the finale, making me wonder if her condition was ever really necessary as a part of the story other than as a thematic device. Kim is so broken in the beginning, that we as the audience hope to see her overcome and defeat her fears in a meaningful way, yet that satisfaction escapes us in the end, replaced with a much simpler confrontation.
By the time the final credits rolled, I was convinced that Flesh and Blood perfectly portrayed the darker themes of family and love which are prevalent around Thanksgiving. If not for predictable twists and turns and pacing set to bake for a lifetime, Flesh and Blood might be a feast worth devouring, but instead is like pumpkin pie without the whipped cream: okay, but missing those key ingredients that make you want to keep eating long after your stomach is giving you the middle finger for cramming more in it. Maybe on Thanksgiving, you could gather everyone around for a viewing of Flesh and Blood and some awkward family time! But if you think your dad is a serial killer, probably best to get the turkey to go and call the police.
Into the Dark: Flesh and Blood is now available on Hulu. And don’t forget to keep a lookout for episode 3, Pooka, releasing sometime in December.
By Matt Konopka