New Year, New You (Movie Review)

New Year, New You (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: Three women who used to be high school best friends invite a fourth, who is now an internet celebrity, to a New Years reunion party. She has no clue what awaits her!

REVIEW: Following a pair of thinly stretched first chapters, it seems Blumhouse TV is starting to find its groove with the Hulu Original anthological holiday horror skein Into The Dark. Last month came the vexingly knotty but rewarding yuletide puzzler, POOKA!, from director Nacho Vigalondo, and now we have another sick and sordid, sinisterly serpentine story to back it up. Indeed, Sophia Takal has progressed nicely from her first two features GREEN and SHINE ON to co-write (with Adam Gaines) and helm NEW YEAR, NEW YOU, a juicily duplicitous and oddly frightful little four-hander that has two exhilaratingly unforeseeable pivots – one in plot, one in character – that really keep the entertainment level from stagnating or dropping off. And unlike her predecessors, save for Nacho, Takal never unnecessarily elongates the material beyond her taut 83 minute cut to meet a contractual obligation of the series outline. Still, there are two semi-consequential gripes I have, one relating to a flash-forward and one to a risible horror cliché taboo, but in the end, what I appreciated most about NEW YEAR, NEW YOU is how, to hit its point home, it harnesses the most harrowing horrors of all: human emotion!

As the film opens, we train our eye on Alexis (Suki Waterhouse), who in turn watches an internet self-help video featuring a woman named Danielle (Carly Chaikin). In the video, Danielle gives advice about New Year’s resolutions, urging faithful devotees who suffer from low self esteem to embrace change for the better. Alexis watches with a perturbed glint in her eye, indicating menace below the surface. Later we learn it is New Year’s Eve, and Alexis is planning a reunion party with some of her old best friends from high school. Kayla (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) shows up with news of a serious significant other and beams with joy. Chloe (Melissa Bergland) grouses about being broke and single. Alexis, who lacks ambition and bears both literal and figurative scars for a fellow friend’s suicide as a result of bullying, appears the most broken of the bunch. When the girls decide to invite their old pal Danielle, who has gone off to become rich and famous as an internet talk-show host, Alexis becomes increasingly agitated. Her ostensible jealously and obvious insecurities begin to get the better of her, and for a while what we think we’re watching is a woman’s fragile emotional state being pushed to the absolute breaking point.

And then a major revelatory twist takes place. I want to, but I can’t. All I can say is I did not see the next plot-point coming, as there was almost to no indication for such to give us even a whiff of a hint. I loved that, and am quite certain that if it works en masse, it’ll prove to be one of the films indubitably definable strong suits. What can be said is that, once this second act is revealed, the movie begins operating on such a level of conniving brainwash and terrifying power of suggestion, that the girls begin pitting each other against one another in the most cutthroat fashion imaginable. When it comes to light that Danielle may be responsible for their mutual friends’ suicide, not Alexis, the good-girl/bad-girl dynamic is upended, and again, we’re thrown for an abrupt loop we couldn’t possibly foretell was going to happen. One of the things I love about this film is its mordantly satirical slant on what makes a person happy in this fallow social media landscape we all live in today. Danielle, who is the ugliest character in the film by design, values her own personal worth by the perks of fortune and fame…the followers, the viewership, the likes, etc. Despite being the most successful of the girls, her actionable viewpoints are downright deplorable, and the horror comes from the equable attempt to foist this very philosophy on her friends as the night goes on, Chloe specifically.

Tables twist, allegiances dissolve, backs get butchered, and soon we’re in the throes of an all out devious disloyal-femme-royal-rumble with every girl out for themselves. As the clock passes midnight and rings in a new year, the messiest of resolutions ensue for each character, again ferrying us into mostly unexpected waters. However, the two primary gripes I have about the film are somewhat related to this. First, the movie opens with a flash-forward to the end of the film, readily identifying the ill-fate of one of its characters before we actually meet her. Sure we don’t know her name at first, but by the time we meet the girl at the New Year’s party, we can recognize her outfit if not her face, thereby sullying any real suspense regarding her specific character. We know what’s going to happen to her from the opening shot, only we don’t know how it’ll play out. Had Takal shrouded the girl a bit more or eliminated the flash-forward altogether I believe the ultimate payoff in the end would be far richer in its unpredictability. The other minor issue I had involves a major faux-pas for any horror movie these days. Twice do characters, despite being locked into the house with no way out, asininely run up the stairs to avert their attackers. Twice! Worse, one pulls a Laurie Strode and risibly hides in the closet. Can’t happen. This is the first thing taught in horror clichés 101, and should be rendered illegal if not taboo by now. So when you see a movie whose screenplay is so smartly written up until that point, make such a grievous third-act misstep, it’s downright difficult to excuse.

On the whole however, NEW YEAR, NEW YOU is a twisted little chiller that, in addition to featuring four solid female performances, keeps you off guard all the way up to the finale. It’s major plot pivot is a joy to be surprised by, and its character curve from obsessive antagonist to antiheroic protagonist is an inspired one. It may take a while to make its trenchant societal statements, satirically so, but the wait is worth it. Check out NEW YWAR, NEW YOU when it drops on Hulu December 28th.

Source: AITH



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