“I love you” and “I hate you” are both three word sentiments with conflicting meanings often confused with one another, but we hope to hear only one of them from our Valentine on that special day in February. Known as the holiday where we’re prompted to celebrate love and our significant others, Valentine’s Day is the last day of the year that you’d expect to end with a body count.
In the ironic world of Blumhouse and Hulu’s horror anthology series, Into The Dark, Valentine’s Day consists of a date with dark relevancy during a romantic evening of entrapment. Writer and director Maggie Levin explores the relentless confusion affiliated with the feeling of love, whether it be true or traumatic, in her debut episode, My Valentine.
Starring Britt Baron (GLOW), Benedict Samuel (Gotham), Anna Lore (Doom Patrol), YouTuber Anna Akana (Youth & Consequence), Tiffany Smith (Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal), and Shaun J. Brown (Future Man), My Valentine “follows Valentine whose songs and artistic identity has been stolen by her ex-boyfriend/manager – and shamelessly pasted onto his new girlfriend/protégé, Trezzure.” Levin “imagines what happens when the two worlds collide and find themselves face to face. Locked together in a small concert venue after hours, the three of them confront the scars of the past… until they take things into their own hands.
Levin manages to turn her anthology installment into an original thriller sweetened by conviction and passion. My Valentine is a stellar three of hearts added to Into The Dark’s clever hand.
“Disco For Beginners”
I am a sucker for anything heart-shaped, so My Valentine was really a treat as the shape could be found everywhere. No matter how tense the subject matter becomes, Levin maintains the influence of the holiday and even hints at its true meaning through her visual applications. In addition to the creative heart placement, graphics, music, and color add an abundance of style and appeal. The scenes effectively dabble with black and white filtering, powerful neon color, and fluorescent lighting. The dulling and glowing of specific moments and objects draws in the viewer’s attention, consistently working towards significance and aesthetics. Pink and blue hues tint each frame adding a saccharine coating to the horror at play. All build-up an effervescent intensity that vibes quickly and cooly.
Hearts may catch my eye, but pop music usually makes my ears bleed. However, I found myself really enjoying the songs written, performed, and produced by Dresage (“The Knife” is still stuck in my head and I’m more than okay with that). Catchy and electric, Valentine’s music is perfectly candid and authentic, keeping the episode planted in rhythmic reality.
Levin offers her earnest director hand by altering the world of her characters with digital graphics and animation. Enforcing social media influence and techno-dependent beings, My Valentine is proudly unique without taking too many liberties. The direction and cinematography make entertaining modern winks at the audience in fun, flirtatious fashion. Supercuts, sliding scenes, montages and flashbacks expand the single space setting. You’d never know Maggie Levin was a beginner feature filmmaker from her kiss of confident edge and skilled ability in My Valentine. Like Cupid, she delivers with precision and aim.
Codependency is another term that can be taken one way or another; healthy and unhealthy given the circumstances. My Valentine is a substantial portrait of relationship rights and wrongs, ones that continue to afflict the two individuals involved and those around them. Boundaries, whether they are overstepped or broken, drive the characters into a bloody good plot. Identity plays a solid role in Valentine’s journey as it does for everyone who has ever shared their heart.
Our heroine, Valentine, is continuously pushed by the needs and manipulations of her partner, losing herself and her material in the process. The process of falling victim to a horrific relationship, coping within one, and the traumatic attempts to leave one take a frightening center stage in this episode. Relationship transgressions, whether positive or negative, are prolific elements in film expression and Levin has expertly altered those of her characters to fit a contemporary coupling. While it is elevated to genre standards, Levin shows that anyone’s sweetened relationship surface can be intrinsically sour at the core. It’s a grounding narrative that is equal parts alarming and effective.
Marrying the classic, continuous relationship arc to a more modern theme, My Valentine sharply introduces self-image to self-love. In a world where online presence defines one identity the way many feel a relationship does, Levin keeps her story relevant by incorporating viral stardom. Attention, adoration, competition, and desperation are all quintessential factors of both Valentine’s relationship with her ex, Royal and her relationship with the image he has created for her. Tying in our new age fascination with fandoms, identity theft, obsession, and intellectual property, My Valentine is a fresh spin that produces a pretty original track.
While My Valentine is a fun flick, it invokes so much careful thought and reflection on what can easily consume us as individuals in the long run: “the one” and the masses. When you take a knife to it, there’s plenty to go around for always.
One of the many points of praise in My Valentine wraps around characterization. The role of Royal, a horrendous ex-boyfriend played with unabashed charisma by Benedict Samuel, is magnetic poison. Samuel brings a larger-than-life presence to the screen and tackles his manipulative, abusive, and toxic position with this out-of-control charm that it is actually fitting for the personality. He perfectly executed a terrifyingly unstable man bent on attention and built on lies. His vile disposition makes for an unfortunate, yet realistic threat and the performance is sure to hit home for everyone who has ever experienced emotional violence on any kind of level.
The Valentine stand-in, Trezzure, enables his behavior, touching on the often ignored notion that sometimes women can be just as toxic as men. Trezzure reminds us that we are all accountable for our actions, regardless of gender or how badly we want to beat our ex’s new significant other over the head with a brick. The tense dynamics and authentic dialogue bring a topical nuance to each of the characters and turns My Valentine into more than a pop singer massacre.
The disposal, replacement, and ownership of women scream feminism in the most lovely melody. The use of Valentine’s talent, her voice, to portray silencing and vocalizing is an artful measure that provides a key ingredient to Levin’s story. The play on the music combined with the powerful dialogue and performances is both engaging and important. Royal’s narrative of events blended with reality shows his ability to manipulate perception, which is terrifyingly frustrating and relatable.
This is ultimately a love letter to anyone who has ever felt the severe frustration that bleeds from a broken heart, to anyone who has ever felt disposable. Not every problem can be solved with “kindness and understanding”. Sometimes things get ugly. My Valentine allows viewers the cathartic experience of fighting back, reclaiming their identity, and moving on from whoever possessed their heart and from whoever stole their voice. This Valentines Day, be sure to love yourself first.
Are you watching the second season of Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into The Dark anthology series? What do you think of February’s bittersweet episode, My Valentine? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!