'Into the Dark: My Valentine' Review: A neon-lit commentary on cycles of abuse and the bane of codependence
Written and directed by Maggie Levin, the story follows Valentine, whose entire life's music has been stolen by her manager-slash-ex and pasted onto his new protégé, Trezzure
This article contains spoilers for 'Into the Dark: My Valentine'
Neon lights and gore have become a staple in the contemporary horror genre, but 'Into the Dark: My Valentine' brings to it the added day of love twist, by showcasing the darkness that prevails amidst the glitz and glamour of the pop industry. That, and of course, an elaborate attempt at highlighting the nuances and niche patterns that are common in domestic abuse. The rampant gaslighting and manipulation that goes into asserting dominance over one's partner, all seasoned with feel-good disco music as the nightmare unfolds on the dance floor.
Written and directed by Maggie Levin, the story follows Glow's Britt Baron as the titular Valentine. Her life's work has been stolen and plagiarized on to a newer version of her called Trezzure by her manipulative and frankly psychotic manager, Royal. Basically, Trezzure is a rip-off of Valentine in terms of both appearance and lyrics as Royal signs all of Valentine's songs under his name and poses Trezzure as the actual star, following Valentine dumping him after a vicious cycle of manipulation and abuse.
Through the course of the film which focuses on Royal and Trezzure ambushing Valentine at a gig she's playing with her only support system, Julia, we get to see parallels between Valentine's own torturous tryst with Royal and that of Trezzure's. In flashbacks, Valentine's cycle of abuse at Royal's hands are shown side by side his current day terrorizing of Trezzure, thus highlighting common patterns in toxic relationships involving domestic abuse, and also showcasing the shackles of codependency, which forces one into staying with their partner even though the love has long dissipated from the relationship.
For both Valentine and Trezzure, Royal is an abusive manipulator who not only slut-shames and body-shames them but also turns back and fervently apologizes to both, calling them names like 'My sweetness' and professing how nobody will love them the way he does, to exhibit all the tropes used by manipulative gaslighters. Royal pretty much sugarcoats his bullying and codependency forces both Valentine in her time, and Trezzure, currently, to accept all of that and forgive him immediately.
That said, Royal is not harmless. He shows up at the club Valentine is playing with a knife and bribes the bartender to kick everyone out so he can have a one on one with Valentine. He talks Trezzure's fanbase into ambushing Valentine's gig as well so they can boo her throughout her performance and later keep guard at the club doors so Valentine can't leave the premises. While Royal's motive behind this is to get Valentine to stop talking on social media about Trezzure's songs were actually hers, while also convince her into ghostwriting Trezzure's next album. And this is exactly where his narcissistic personality outshines any scope for redemption because it's obvious that Royal is a vapid manchild who can't take rejection and wants to enslave everything about his partner.
Realistic, right? Well, the episode comes with the disclaimer that it is inspired by several real pop culture scandals and throughout its 80-minute run, it resembles the Taylor Swift-Scooter Braun music ownership controversy quite clearly. Even in the case of Valentine implying sexual abuse, we are reminded of Kesha's long drawn out court battle with her producer, Dr Luke, whom she accused of raping her several times in the years they worked together.
Also, the whole dazed and naive image that Royal has plastered on to his latest protégé, Trezzure, resembles that of popster Melanie Martinez's satirical twists on dark nursery themes which have been labeled controversial for a while.
The cinematography is ambitious too, with almost the entire action-packed into the tiny vicinity of the neon-lit venue and split screens sprinkled through the slasher horror whose prime antagonist is basically an entitled jerk with a fragile ego. His aim in life is to portray a narrative of his girlfriend and nothing can get in the way of that; not even his girlfriend. Predictable at times, the saving grace is the sick extent of Royal's morbid fantasies that aren't restricted to just choking his partner until they pass out, but also involve stabbing a person and recording the gagging sounds as they bleed to death so he can use them in his next productions.
That, and of course, no drawn-out heavy soliloquies on the activism the episode symbolizes, as we get to see women empowerment through Valentine's only comfort Julia sticking up for her, calling Royal a 'true crime series waiting to happen'. And at other times, the narrative upholds the painful journey of self-love and acceptance while trying to break out of the restrains of codependence - something that gives hope to those unable to walk out, and a salute to those who have finally been able to. What better way to celebrate this Valentine's Day?!
'Into the Dark: My Valentine' premieres on Friday, February 7, only on Hulu.