(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
After a pandemic-forced hiatus, Blumhouse and Hulu’s Into The Dark series returns and, to quote Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale, “I miss the misery.” This February, Clara Aranovich’s Tentacles marks the first holiday horror feature-segment since July’s politically paranoid The Current Occupant. Into The Dark offers a tentacular Valentine’s Day tale of lust, mistrust, and rushing into romantic entanglement, written by Channel Zero scribe Alexandra Pechman with a co-story credit to Channel Zero and beyond’s Nick Antosca. So is it a welcome return to streamable monthly frights?
As I said, I miss the misery. Interpret accordingly.
Casey Deidrick stars as commercial photographer Sam, who modern nomad Tara (Dana Drori) meets at an open house showcase. They strike an immediate connection, and after sexual intercourse, Tara reveals she’s displaced and cash-flush. Sam’s inherited family estate (left by his mother and father) requires renovations, which he trades for Sam’s residency. Ultimately, they fall deeper in love while sharing intimate moments amidst redecorating Sam’s now less messy pad. Sam’s business partner and best friend Esther (Kasey Elise) questions if the couple is advancing too quickly, but any fears fall on deaf, Cupid-plugged ears. Then Tara reveals an ex is stalking her, break-ins occur, and Sam’s health begins deteriorating for undiagnosable reasons.
Without skipping a beat, Into The Dark is plagued by the same underdevelopment notes that have befallen countless installments. Tentacles exists in this tonally unenergized purgatory where the front-end forty(ish) minutes hazily construct a relationship between Sam and Tara, before supernatural elements add horror spices to an otherwise uncharismatic shack-up flick. We do have to remember that Tentacles was filmed under COVID-19 restrictions, but that doesn’t excuse storytelling shortfalls. Sam and Tara’s speedster engagement is overdramatized as characters become combative at a pin’s drop, reusing sexual imagery to emphasize the carnal nature of their instantaneous attraction. It’s a character-piece without much character, which remains the film’s focus until slithery additives arise in the closing third.
Aranovich undoubtedly strives to elevate the cinematic stagnance of two partners who rapid-fire progress through bonding milestones within a single-location household. One such scene of fornication stresses motion blurriness as bodies fast-forward in Kama Sutra approved poses while the brightened then dimming lights symbolize their twenty-four-seven lovefest. As Sam begins breaking down in small glimpses, his momentary psychosis (for example, piercing earaches) is emphasized by distorted camera views. Little things attempt to inject style, and yet Tentacles never asserts enough individuality as the central conflict arises. Despite thinly-written characters who fail to heighten urgency for far too long, nothing is outstanding about the strange circumstances surrounding Sam’s sudden ecstasy.
These oddities, Sam and Tara’s devotion, are themselves the notes of Tentacles we’re supposed to find distressing. Sam falls head-over-heels into obsession over Tara, which concerns decade-plus companions such as Esther. Commentaries aren’t subtle as Sam and Tara blaze their trail from boozy hookup to roommates to potential wedded bliss, but without ever raising adequate alarms. Tentacles is titled with reason, yet still leaves suggested Lovecraftian or aquatic horror themes under the sun until they’re dried out, implemented after our attention wanes. It’s not even that the tentacles, when showcased, have the same lackluster appearance as, say, those digitized extensions in Hulu’s Bad Hair. In a folkloric condemnation of the risks we take by offering our hearts to another person, Tentacles struggles to sustain its 90ish minutes of quick-cut stalker phone calls, Sam’s blindsided puppy dog behavior, or the more exciting genre elements left hidden.
In ways, Tentacles is a disappointing return to normalcy for Into The Dark. My criticisms of the horror anthology often highlight how features feel forcibly elongated when they’d most likely be more digestible shortened around an hour. The same goes here as Casey Deidrick and Dana Drori daydream their way through romantic interludes until the hypnotic horrors of their connection reveal themselves. It’s not to say performers fail, more how the repetition and mundanity of relationship “thrills” leaves little uncharted territory before underwater lyricism becomes more relevant but ineffective as the ship has already begun to sink.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
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Author: Matt Donato
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February 11, 2021