The Hulu-Blumhouse holiday horror anthology series Into the Dark returns tomorrow with a new episode in honour of New Year’s Eve, a searing takedown of social media, toxic friendships, and wellness culture titled “New Year, New You.” It’s a suspenseful entry with an all-female cast, directed by Sophia Takal.
Those who’ve been following Blumhouse news this year will understand the significance of that last fact, since back in October company head Jason Blum gave an interview in which he opined that there are “not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror.” Very quickly, he apologised for his “dumb remarks,” but the damage was done, especially since Blumhouse, a prolific producer of genre works, has yet to theatrically distribute a film directed by a woman.
So you can understand why the fact that Blumhouse hired Takal to direct “New Year, New You” is kind of a big deal, even if it shouldn’t be—and, as she explained to us in the interview that follows, she was already well underway on the project by the time Blum made that statement.
io9: “New Year, New You” has gotten some extra attention thanks to Jason Blum’s statements about women directors, particularly women directors working in horror, earlier this year. What did you make of that controversy?
Sophia Takal: I was already in post-production [on “New Year, New You”] so it didn’t really come up at all. I can only speak to what my experience was working with [Blumhouse], and it was absolutely wonderful. I felt totally supported and included and part of the Blumhouse family—I felt so grateful because it’s such a wonderful company and I think so many of the movies they make are interesting and made by people from different backgrounds with different points of view about the world. For me, [Blum’s remarks] didn’t really land in any particular way because of how good an experience I’d been having up to that point, and still continue to have even now.
I also know that they had been making an effort prior to that—there are other [Into the Dark] episodes that are going to be directed by women later on in the series, and on the movie end, I know of at least one woman that they’re developing a movie with that was announced prior to [Blum] saying this too. But the fact of the matter is, I don’t think he was right—and he knows he wasn’t right, because he’s since corrected the record that there aren’t any female directors who are interested in horror.
At the same time, it is a very male-dominated genre. It is a very “bro-y” genre. I think often, and this is not true of the great horror movies, but those sort of middle-of-the-road horror movies [can be] very misogynistic. Part of what I’m looking to do by participating in this genre is turning it around, and not only giving women a chance to see themselves reflected in the genre, but also to challenge men’s ideas of what women are like who gravitate toward horror. I’m making this movie thinking of women seeing it, but I’m certainly thinking of the typical horror bro that’s into horror movies watching this movie as well—how are they going to take it? Hopefully, they’ll be sort of exposed to another way of showing women onscreen than they’re used to.
io9: “New Year, New You,” which has no male characters, takes place at a New Year’s Eve party and focuses on a group of women who were once close friends but have drifted apart—mostly because one among them, played by Mr. Robot’s Carly Chaikin, is now a rich and famous wellness guru with a huge social media following. The themes the episode touches on are intense: bullying, rivalries and resentment, manipulation. Is that what attracted you to this story?
Takal: Blumhouse gave me this script that had a great concept of these women who were friends from high school and has issues in terms of competitiveness, and they allowed me to kind of put my stamp on the script as well. For me, the thing that really opened up the story was figuring out the self-care, self-love, and “health and wellness” kind of niche. It was something I was really excited to explore because I think I can fall for what I consider to be, like, a narcissistic idea of taking care of yourself.
I do remember realising at one point that there were no male characters whatsoever and getting so excited about that. Not because I think that men shouldn’t be seen on screen—I think men are fascinating and I’d love to make a movie about the male experience. But to tell this particular story, again, because I think a lot of times horror is told through the male gaze, it was an exciting twist on the genre for me.
io9: Speaking of that, “New Year, New You” digs into a different kind of gaze: through the lens of social media, and how people tend to project an image online that’s not really true to real life. Do you think that’s ripe territory for a horror movie?
Takal: For sure. I think that the pull that the genre has for me is that you can take everyday issues that are inherently horrific—which I think social media, and the complexes that people develop from looking at other peoples’ social media, are subtly horrific—and you can kind of put a magnifying glass to them and explore them in an outsized way. By doing so, you’re able to really distill what makes something so scary. For me, there are so many things actually scary about social media beyond this—I was just reading about how Facebook has let corporations read your private Facebook messages. Big Data and social media, that’s so messed up. There’s that element of it. And then there’s this particular thing, a type of woman who presents herself and curates her image, and kind of labels it as “self-love.” And we look at it, and we’re like “I already felt like shit about myself, and now I’m also feeling even worse that I don’t love myself like she’s telling me I should.” It’s just another way that media essentially can make people feel bad about themselves.
I find social media just terrifying, and also very addictive. I can’t get off Twitter if my life depended on it.
io9: Most of “New Year, New You” takes place in a single house that happens to be filled with mirrors—a deliberate choice to echo the story’s themes?
Takal: The ideas of reflection and self-reflection and duality were definitely things I thought about a lot, and talked about with our production designer and cinematographer. I think part of it, thematically, is that it works very well with the idea of social media and the images that we’re projecting to the world. But then also, I’m just really drawn to movies from the ‘70s, and there’s really cool uses of mirrors in movies like Don’t Look Now, or Images, the Robert Altman movie. So it was a combination of being drawn to a stylistic element from movies that I love, and also seeing the thematic throughline of why that element would work in this particular story.
io9: I noticed that the title treatment has a 1970s flair to it, as well.
Takal: I’m actually really happy we did that. My editor, who was awesome, I loved working with him—I originally maybe wanted to reference Rosemary’s Baby, which is a very cursive-y, curlicued pink font. We tried that, and then he also showed me this font he’d pulled from the Brian De Palma movie Sisters, and I saw it and was like, “Holy shit, this is awesome.” And that’s also a really cool movie that also explores women in really interesting ways. I think it’s a fun reference, and I like the feeling it sets up.
Into the Dark’s “New Year, New You” debuts December 28 on Hulu.