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‘Into the Dark’ is a bright light in horror anthology

On Sunday, the premiere of the second season of Hulu’s horror anthology, “Into the Dark,” hit  Hulu. “Into the Dark” has been a fascinating ride since I discovered it a couple weeks ago. The series is a further attempt by producer Jason Blum (“Insidious,” “Get Out,” “Paranormal Activity,” “Happy Death Day”) to make himself the biggest name in horror. Each entry is created by a different person, and many are cleverly constructed—no episode went in exactly the direction I was expecting, and in each case, a unique voice was given the chance to shine. They also toe the line between feeling like an episode of a show and a full-length movie, which works well for the content and time commitment. 

The content itself, in classic horror fashion, includes some touchy subject material–every episode contains some form of violence and death, but some go further. Horror often struggles to work in the horrific possibilities of everyday life in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative, and at some points, this show is no different. This is also the part of being a horror fan that I struggle with the most. However, I think each episode I recommend still has merit, which is why I have included content warnings. In general, although this series has overall been hit-or-miss, here are four(ish) episodes any horror fan shouldn’t miss:

“New Year, New You” (content warning: bullying, suicide)

“New Year, New You,” from director Sophia Takal, follows a group of old friends having a reunion on New Year’s Eve: Two seemingly well-adjusted adults, one haunted by trauma, and one a famous influencer, all tied together by a dark secret. It is very well-cast and beautifully acted, especially on the part of Carly Chaikin (“Mr. Robot”). The filmmaking is a pleasure to watch, as it feels like both an homage to horror films of old and a new and exciting piece of art in its own right. The story itself is creepy for its physical horror aspects as much as its commentary on a society that prioritizes appearance over everything else. There are twists and turns, and you won’t always know exactly where you stand, but that’s all part of the fun!

“Flesh and Blood” (content warning: manipulation)

“Flesh and Blood” is the first episode I watched in its entirety, and it is what made me want to keep watching “Into the Dark.” Directed by Patrick Lussier (who edited “Scream”), it is about an agoraphobic young woman dealing with the anniversary of her mother’s death and new information she slowly discovers. The horror here comes from the protagonist’s uncertainty and claustrophobia, not necessarily your own, but is entirely worth watching for the performances (Diana Silvers and Dermot Mulroney both deliver) and the tense story.

“Culture Shock” (content warning: sexual assault)

This episode has largely been lauded as the best of the bunch, and it’s easy to see why. It feels both disturbingly familiar and totally new in story and cinematography. The plot follows a young woman, Marisol (wonderfully played by Martha Higareda), who is trying to cross the border from Mexico to the United States. Each of the three acts is creepy and affecting for its own reasons, as dreams become horror through masterful camerawork, acting and directing (by Gigi Saul Guerrero.) This episode manages to show rather than simply tell a deeply disturbing commentary on immigration and leaves the viewer unsettled throughout—and even after it ends.

“Pooka” (content warning: domestic violence)

“Pooka,” from director Nacho Vigalondo, is the episode I was most hesitant about watching—I didn’t enjoy “The Waldo Moment” of “Black Mirror,” and this seemed like a less-enticing knock-off. The episode’s plot follows a struggling actor as he dons a costume which seems to have strange effects on his life, and when I actually began watching, I was surprised by how much I liked it. It is creepy and strange in ways you won’t see coming, at once ridiculous and haunting.

Honorable mentions:

“Pure,” although not my favorite of the series, is filled with real emotion and strong performances from young actors. It follows an instantly creepy chastity retreat, where daughters are pressured to sign pledges to remain pure in company with their fathers. The episode lingers not because it is unreasonably scary but rather because of the anger and wish for vengeance you can feel emanating from the screen, probably thanks to both the writing and direction from Hannah Macpherson. 

Similar to “Pure,” “The Cabin” (content warning: sexual assault) is almost less horrific than it is a form of wish fulfillment, surpirisingly directed by James Roday of “Psych” fame. A visit by a celebrity chef to his childhood cabin in the woods turns out differently than he thinks it will over the course of one long night. Throughout, it is creative, interesting and unexpected. I also found “They Come Knocking” (directed by Adam Mason) very affecting, with a slightly disappointing ending. The episode is about the pilgrimage of a family to deliver their mother’s ashes to a significant place; a pilgrimage that takes a dark and dangerous turn. In the end, I was more interested in the dynamic of the grieving family than the horror aspects, but I think the episode is still worth checking out.

A couple caveats: I don’t recommend watching any trailers (this is almost across-the-board my recommendation at this point). Instead, just read the descriptions and jump in. I also haven’t watched “The Body,” and I don’t intend to. Ultimately, I am very excited for the rest of season two (even though the first episode was… dumb). “Into the Dark” is fun at its core because it seems like a place for people to showcase their different and weird ideas. Not all of them are good, but they’re all a wild ride.

I don’t recommend watching any trailers (this is almost across-the-board my recommendation at this point). Instead, just read the descriptions and jump in. I also haven’t watched “The Body,” and I don’t intend to. Ultimately, I am very excited for the rest of season two (even though the first episode was… dumb). “Into the Dark” is fun at its core because it seems like a place for people to showcase their different and weird ideas. Not all of them are good, but they’re all a wild ride.

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