Everyone has that one friend who can’t not be in a relationship...
...They meet someone, fall for them hard, and play house for a while. A few months or maybe even years go by. Then something happens and they break up (usually messily), and your friend (who you most likely haven’t seen in quite some time) comes calling for consoling. You do your best to make them feel better while you also, oh so gently, try to introduce the idea that it could be helpful for them to be single for a time. They could learn to be alone and, in the process, get a better sense of themselves and perhaps even an understanding that they don’t need to be with someone to have inherent worth as a human being. Either the idea takes, or your friend meets someone new next week, but hey; at least you tried.
“Tentacles”, the latest installment in Blumhouse and Hulu’s horror anthology Into the Dark, takes the concept of the serial monogamist and turns it (quite literally) into a monster. Director Clara Aranovich (who helmed a previous installment of the series called “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Dying”) examines the complex ways in which intense romantic relationships can corrode one’s sense of self, while also throwing in a teensy bit of Lovecraftian imagery and a few moments of shudder-inducing body horror to boot. The success of the end product is varied, but the journey you take during the course of its runtime is enough of a spooky and cerebral slow-burn to keep fans of that style of horror hooked.
The episode centers around Tara (Dana Drori) and Sam (Casey Deidrick), two twenty-somethings whose initial hookup turns into an intense relationship that eventually leads to them shacking up together in the former’s childhood home. Things seem picturesque at first until Sam realizes that his fiancée has been hiding from him that she’s on the run from a stalker. As he attempts to send the creep packing, more and more information about Tara’s past begins to surface and their romance evolves into something terrifying.
The main strength of “Tentacles”, based on a story by Nick Antosca (Channel Zero, Antlers) and Alexandra Pechman (Channel Zero) and written by Pechman, is something that might be a big turnoff for some viewers in that it truly takes its time building both the chemistry between its main romantic duo and the overall atmosphere of the world the two inhabit together. That dream-like quality that accompanies the honeymoon phase of any relationship is illustrated beautifully by Aranovich and writer Pechman, which is essential because that feeling isn’t just the result of the two’s initial puppy-love but the product of something much darker. When the story enters its third act, those moments gain a chilling new quality once we realize that one of these two lovers has been a wolf in sheep’s clothing the whole time and has been gaining a vice-like emotional grip over the other in a completely unexpected and insidious way. It’s a wonderful reveal made all the more jarring thanks to the deliberate way Aranovich builds tension, but patience on the viewer’s part is essential.
Coupled with that revelation are scenes that will satisfy horror fans with more of a “meat and potatoes” type of taste. There’s one practical effect in particular that made this reviewer’s stomach churn in the best way possible (you’ll know it when you see it). Unfortunately, some pretty unconvincing CGI tentacles dampen the horrific impact of a few key moments, causing the momentum of the suspense that’s been bubbling so well to be derailed ever-so-slightly. It’s been quite a while since poor CG has pulled me completely out of something I was watching, but sadly that’s what happened here. Thankfully they’re used sparingly enough that the story is able to recover some of its force during its climax.
Overall, “Tentacles” is a strong entry in the Into the Dark canon. It approaches toxic relationships in a way that’s challenging but realistic and shows a maturity in its pacing that’s refreshingly subtle. While its more creature-focused scares are marred by some questionable computer animation, its psychological horror hits the mark and leaves you wondering how well you can truly ever know a person, even the ones you love.
Into the Dark: Tentacles comes to Hulu on February 12th.
By Patrick Brennan
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