Let’s face it. The whole damn country is on the verge of a mental break…
…And it isn’t so surprising that some of us would start wishing or even believing we were the President of the United States, with the hopes we could fix the cesspool of ignorance and hatred and wave of zombie Karens that have flooded America. The current President is off his rocker and isn’t fixing anything any time soon, so one can dream. Even Kanye was getting in on the action, announcing a presidential bid over fourth of July weekend before recently dropping out. The timing is pretty incredible, considering the wildfire of delusion that is Kanye really isn’t all that different from the protagonist of The Current Occupant.
The latest chapter of Into the Dark, Hulu’s horror anthology series which presents a new standalone, feature-length episode every month centered around a holiday (Independence Day, in this case), director Julius Ramsay’s (Midnighters) The Current Occupant is written by Alston Ramsay (Midnighters) and follows Henry (Barry Watson), a guy who wakes up in a psychiatric ward believing he is the President of the United States, and is being held against his will.
Opening with an eerie bastardization of the National Anthem, at first glance, you’d think this was going to be a clever commentary on Trump considering the timing, a man who can’t escape criticism that he’s lost his damn mind. But you’d be sorely mistaken. In fact, all of the MAGA hats out there will be pleasantly surprised to learn this episode has little to nothing to do with Trump, while the rest of us sigh in disappointment at a wasted opportunity.
In some ways, you could even argue The Current Occupant is sympathetic to the madness coming out of the Whitehouse.
Henry himself is a character we can relate to. Kind. Charming. And played with a desperate helplessness by Watson as he scrambles around the psychiatric ward looking for answers, wary of everyone around him, especially cold and calculating Dr. Larson (Sonita Henry). Once Henry finds a file on himself revealing he is the President (a file that is heavily redacted, which sure does sound familiar), he pleas for someone, anyone, to believe him. But of course, no one on staff does. Consistently, Larson asks Henry, what is more likely? That the President of the United States woke up in a psychiatric ward, or that a patient in a psychiatric ward woke up as the President?
Sound logic, Doctor.
But all it takes is a patient or two and a mysterious nurse named Eliza (Kate Cobb) to side with Henry and convince him that he’s right. You are who you think you are, Mr. President. But that’s the funny thing about reality, isn’t it? Reality is truly what we make of it. These days, if you’re a liberal, you think Trump is the second coming of Hitler, hell-bent on a path to dictatorship. If you’re a conservative, you think Trump is a fair, honest and great leader. Both can be wrong, but only one can be right. It just depends on the reality that you and those around you allow you to live in.
Henry’s reality is that he is the President of the United States, and that “leadership is lonely”, as patient Garrett (Joshua Burge) tells him. The Current Occupant asks us to hold Henry, and hug him, and tell him yes, it’s okay that you’re feeling this way. Leadership is hard. Leadership is stressful.
On the other side of that is the alternate reality of the world Henry lives in, the one where he’s a psychiatric patient. Ramsay and cinematographer Cory Geryak paint the screen with sickly greens and yellows, typical in reflecting horrors of the mind. Henry himself spends most of the film strapped down in a Clockwork Orange-like device, forced to answer philosophical questions about life, love and death while watching an amalgamation of random and disturbing images. The Current Occupant is really just a Black Mirror style moment from A Clockwork Orange, stretched out over ninety minutes.
Henry gets up every day. Questions his reality. Gets beaten by guards. Gets his “treatment”. And around and around this mind-carousel from Hell goes.
The Current Occupant is vaguely philosophical by nature, frustratingly repetitive by execution, and acts as a complete waste of Henry’s supposed occupation. The only reason I’ve even mentioned Trump is that, releasing in 2020, it’s easy to believe this particular episode of Into the Dark was inspired by our current president and his obvious instability. I give applause to Blumhouse and Hulu for injecting a bit of politics into various episodes of Into the Dark. Some have a lot to say with their subject matter and are executed brilliantly, such as Culture Shock. The Current Occupant isn’t one of those.
Instead, The Current Occupant is a film that feels like it wants to go further, but is restrained in its messaging, trapped in a structure we’ve seen a hundred times before. There’s a kernel of truth in The Current Occupant when it comes to how we deal with mental health, and how so many of us have lost our way. But despite good performances all around and an overall unnerving vibe, The Current Occupant packs so much less of a punch than it intends, that it won’t be long before viewers wake up like Henry, without a memory of having ever seen it.
By Matt Konopka