When it comes to current controversial figures from all over the world, the President of the United States holds a special seat. Beloved and hated, the position causes a split in belief systems across the nation as one man (no woman, yet) takes the power of the people into his hands and delegates action that not only affects those people, but also the world. What happens to the people in the governing powers if the President himself is compromised? Is it possible someone could wake up and believe they are the President of the United States, kept away from the White House by an undercover force? Could an organization be capable of such a cover-up? Would they get away with it? Writer Alston Ramsay and Julius Ramsay (Midnighters) team up to explore those very questions with their patriotic entry to Blumhouse and Hulu’s Into The Dark anthology series with The Current Occupant.
The Ramsay brothers’ episode embraces the unsteady climate of July when “A man believing himself to be the President of the United States finds himself imprisoned in a psychiatric ward with no knowledge of how or why he’s there. As the institution’s soul-crushing forces bear down on him, he fights both to escape and to preserve his own sanity so that he can return to power”. This relevant and timely narrative stars Barry Watson (The Loudest Voice), Sonita Henry (Krypton), Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III (Black Lightning), Lilli Birdsell (Doom Patrol), Kate Cobb (Scandal), Ezra Buzzington (Crossbones) and Joshua Burge (The Revenant). Working a complex plot with both fluid and mysteriously mechanics, The Current Occupant hold an impressive enigmatic engagement. The storytelling is both surreal and sobering. The Ramsay’s dare viewers to experience the unthinkable in a very possible way. While The Current Occupant is filled with throwing elements and twisted turns, the truth lies in what we the people don’t know and probably will never know.
This Isn’t Procedure
First and foremost, The Current Occupant is a progressive exercise in mind control. Beginning with a mundane, repetitive routine and ending with a tremendous question mark, the episode moves through a variety of environments to take the story from one point of contingency to another. If viewers are ready for something else, they will be pleased and surely surprised by the narrative’s ability to weave in and out of this cerebral roller coaster. HenryCameron wakes up in an institution and slowly learns he could be the President of the United States and is being held against his will, all under some sort of conspiracy to control the government. This idea puts an unfamiliar character in a position that we see in film every so often. The role of the protagonist is fresh and different as it makes an untouchable kind of character relatable and places him in a setting that is confusing and raw. Between memory recovery, déjà vu, clinical trials, and mind altering testing, viewers will have a difficult time deciphering fact from fiction over time in the best way possible. This episode channels all of the positive elements of mind control flicks, but kicks it up a notch thanks to a very mature and confident restraint in The Current Occupant’s screenplay. Alston Ramsay’s writing champions a solid tread with content that drives off of the rails. His control has a constant edge that invokes suspicion and paranoia, all while maintaining a tight grip on the film’s purpose and intentionally unsettled outcome.
“Working a complex plot with both fluid and mysteriously mechanics, The Current Occupant hold an impressive enigmatic engagement.”
The episode’s balanced pace drives the plot forward and contrasts nicely with Julius Ramsay’s volatile direction. Blurry frames capture Henry’s confusion and eventual, questionable clarity. The subdued palette of blues, grays, and greens give The Current Occupant a cold cover further supported by uncomfortable overhead lighting ending facility set pieces. The sterile landscape enhances the isolated atmosphere and really creates a dreadful tone that only continues to build the more secrets Henry reveals. Like a ticking clock counting down the odds of doubt, each of the narratives’ failsafes are disrupted which never allows a moment of the episode to feel safe. The Current Occupant resists routine and instead turns out tense break from politics as we know it. The third act makes a shocking revelation that viewers will not see coming. It continues to unravel with a brilliant application of tricks, foreshadowing, and motifs that ultimately lead up to an ending that still raises discussion long after the credits roll. The ambiguity of Henry’s psychosis is chilling, frustrating, and terribly uncertain, much like the current state of the country. The Ramsays effectively adopt a formula, handle it, break it down, rebuild it, and change it all over again. It’s pretty impressive.
Don’t Let Them Take Your Brain
We live in a connected world where information and so much more is at the literal tips of our fingers. Conspiracies, hoaxes, leeks, hacks, and all the other online bugs are all part of our everyday life and more people have platforms to share their thoughts. Many have not trusted the government since Area 51, Others blindly watch on. The Current Occupant shows we can’t always believe what we see or at least what is shown to us. Social stability has become so divided and believes so manufactured, it is almost impossible to see the forest through the trees. Ramsay plays on the keen notion of brainwashing the President through creepy subliminal graphics and neurological treatments that seem downright authentic. The correctional experiments, redacted information, and methods of silencing the subject are all part of The Current Occupant’s horror factor, but all play a very real role in the society we actively inhabit… whether we are aware of it or not.
“If viewers are ready for something else, they will be pleased and surely surprised by the narrative’s ability to weave in and out of this cerebral roller coaster.”
Using unsteady shots and natural camera movements that follow Henry wherever he goes (he is in every scene) as well as a slew of visual effects, The Current Occupant is genuinely disorienting and disturbing. The cloud revolving around Henry’s identity and the motives of the doctors controlling him calibrates well with the between the people and the government, the people in the media, the people and the people. This episode of Into The Dark adapts the spirit of films like The Manchurian Candidate and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but stands in an eerie currency all its own that undoubtedly casts a strong social commentary throughout its layered structure. Melding reality with hallucinations, manipulation is a master component of terror that slowly chips away Henry’s mental state and reliability as the narrator. Lots of little surprises pepper the story from beginning to end, rewiring the plot with a necessary uneven consistency to keep the mystery alive. Henry’s paranoia is palpable and contributes to a well-written maze of trust. Like an electric shock to our constitutions, The Current Occupant plays with our minds in a dark game of therapeutic technique.
I Know Me
Again, the President of the United States is a divisive character that certainly makes for appealing subject matter. Inspiring pride or stoking fear, the position of power is an interesting protagonist choice for the time we live in. Ramsay easily tears down the character, strips down the throne of dictation, and finds what makes a national leader tick. The Current Occupant manages to paint the President with a pigment of humanity and humility. Placing a character we seldom identify with in a puzzling and harrowing scenario is a bold move, given the level of emotion present but it works. For a person we believe to pull all the strings, push all the buttons, and make all the calls, we discover he is actually just a pawn in a grander scheme of overthrow. Instead of taking the expected route of turning HenryCameron into a villain, Ramsay draws a man humbled by his prevalent state and one who is determined to return to his duties for the sake of those he faithfully governs. The real threat is found in trusted doctors, friends, and supposed allies. Henry’s inability to trust those around him as well as himself adds to The Current Occupant constantly spiraling content. The obligation to inform and guide viewers is checked at level one as the President of the United States fights for his freedom and identity. Morality and responsibility play an epic battle against survival and combat in this episode, which not only produces an entertaining story, but a meaningful one.
Barry Watson is recognized for his wholesome role in the family-friendly sitcom 7th Heaven, but it must be noted that he gives a really great performance as the captive President. You can see the range behind his craft with this role as he runs a gamut of emotions from defeated to determined. Drained, confused, and isolated as HenryCameron in The Current Occupant, Watson demonstrates the capacity to take on such a conflicted character that maintains integrity and earnest composure through some horrendous exposures. His visual physical and mental deterioration is a talent in itself and grounds such an important man in a tainted reality. As Henry struggles to maintain his identity as he knows it, it seems that his morality never truly falters making the character and the artist that much more likable. Watson holds a certain kind of charisma that any politician should possess, but maintains a kindness and humility in his expression of HenryCameron that makes him a leader you might consider trusting.
“The third act […] unravels with a brilliant application of tricks, foreshadowing, and motifs that ultimately lead up to an ending that still raises discussion long after the credits roll.”
Hope is one of the only notions the people as a collective whole can hold onto, but that might not be found in the end of the Ramsay brothers’ thrilling political horror. Initiating a thoughtful insight into the logic and principles that the American people value and the sinister conspiracies that threaten to diminish their force, The Current Occupant is simply a political joyride that rides on temperate rails with no light at the end of the tunnel. Alston and Julius Ramsay have taken their respective talents to rally a strong, topical sci-fi horror campaign. This episode initiates a frightening portrait of one man’s mental stability, the force of his position against the world, and an equivocal compromise that could very well happen without so much as a headline revealing the real truth. The Current Occupant will keep you up at night wondering: Is Henry Cameron really who he thinks he is or is it all in his mind? In a rational world, neither scenario is likely to occur.
The Current Occupant is now streaming exclusively on Hulu. Trust the process, there’s hope for us all… or is there?
Are you watching the second season of Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into The Dark anthology series? What do you think of July’s topical Independence Day inspired episode, The Current Occupant? What did you think about the episode’s ending? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!
Review: Into The Dark - The Current Occupant (2020)