Blumhouse and Hulu’s Into the Dark series has been running about a little over a year and a half now, and arguably the most stylish, colorful episode yet just debuted with My Valentine…
…A monthly anthology series where each new episode focuses on a holiday theme for that month, Into the Dark: My Valentine is centered around the theme of, what else, Valentine’s Day. But we’re not talking about a melodramatic, sappy love story. My Valentine is a tense knife to the heart, covered in bloody glitter.
Making her feature debut is writer/director Maggie Levin, who comes from a background of “rock and roll”, as her IMDB states, and it shows in My Valentine. In the film, pop singer Valentine (Britt Baron), is struggling to get her inner strength and identity back after an abusive relationship with ex-boyfriend Royal (Benedict Samuel). But when Royal shows up during a performance with new girlfriend/pop star Trezzure (Anna Lore)--who is obnoxious as her name and has been turned into a head to toe carbon copy of Valentine--Royal claims he and Trezzure own the rights to the songs which Valentine performs (not true), and it soon becomes clear he’s willing to kill to get her out of the picture.
Part music video, part twisted murder fest, My Valentine is an assault of cotton candy colored imagery and catchy tunes with lyrics like, “dance with you on a knife.” Feeling inspired by other visual, music infused treats like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Levin and cinematographer Ana M. Amortegui dash the picture in more pink, purple and blue than a fairy, and it’s goddamn beautiful. This is a film that puts the cutthroat world of pop music front and center, and it’s the first thing that pops out about the film. I’m white and can’t dance for shit, but it was enough to get my rusty white guy hips swaying to the rhythm before all hell breaks loose.
A grimy film about failed aspirations and manipulative relationships, My Valentine opens in, where else, Los Angeles (I live in LA, so I can say that). Valentine is an amazing singer, and I immediately wanted to root for her, thanks to a hypnotizing performance from Baron, looking like pop-star Barbie yet filled with such grief and pain that we almost want to scream when greasy, sadistic Royal comes calling. Looking like every other privileged white dude who sits at home smelling his own farts and calling them masterpieces, he reignites every bruised memory that Valentine has with him.
And like any horror film set around Valentine’s Day, the “love” in this story is not of the “conquers all” variety. Instead, My Valentine is a snarling depiction of toxic masculinity and male abuse towards women in relationships. Through flashbacks and Royal’s extremely aggressive behavior, we learn that he is, in fact, the definition of “abusive”. Samuel does an excellent job of portraying absolute sadism, in one moment after the killing starts even wanting to capture the dying breath of his victim on tape. There is zero subtlety to the character, but that’s also part of the problem here.
I love that we have films like My Valentine from female creators that are pointing out some of the terrors of the world that horror hasn’t often touched, such as the manipulation of men like Royal, yet in this case, Royal is so unabashedly and obviously evil, that it’s hard to see why Valentine ever fell for him, or why Trezzure stands by him, even after the killing begins. There’s very little charm to Royal, and flashbacks to him practically strangling Valentine and then apologizing and saying he doesn’t know why he did that seem too early in their relationship for her to be sucked in so deeply. Abusive relationships are complicated though, and so this is a minor grievance. I only wish that we saw the side of Royal that both girls actually like(d).
All that being said, Levin’s portrayal of abuse and how it continues long after the relationship is over, is simply brilliant. Not only has Valentine lost most of her confidence and been dubbed a liar after posting on social media that Trezzure’s songs are hers and not the peppy pop-stars, but Royal has “created” her in the same image as Valentine, blue hair and all, taking everything right down to her look away from her and claiming it was his “design”. If you can’t tell by now, Royal is royally fucked in the head.
The horror is less in the bloodshed (which there is plenty of once Valentine makes clear she won’t stop saying the pair stole her work), but in the dynamics of the trio, and Valentine’s inability to save the delightfully simple Trezzure from the same fate as hers. Every time Trezzure shrugs off Royal’s actions, including MURDER, you want to scream for her to ignore his manipulation, like the person in the theater screaming for a character not to go out there. But, as many do in these situations, she ignores the blood-red warning signs. My Valentine is a tense, bloody, claustrophobic thriller, yet nothing in the film is more frightening than the clear entrapment of these women through Royal’s fake tears and constant jabs at their confidence, making them believe that no one will ever love them like him.
My Valentine lacks excitement and isn’t all that difficult to predict, but what it lacks in thrills, it makes up for with delicious gore, surprisingly fun and funny characters, and some major style points, all within a valuable story touching on a topic that needs to be discussed more.
Into the Dark: My Valentine is now breaking hearts on Hulu.
By Matt Konopka