(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
For Into The Dark’s second dysfunctional Valentine’s Day, writer/director Maggie Levin delivers a pop-glammy ode to loving one’s self. My Valentine warns against the horrors of obsessive control, codependent erasure, and how predators hide behind the guise of romance. Levin takes relationship trauma deathly serious, set to a playlist of shout-in-your-shower electropop anthems. Green Room by way of dangerous attractions; costumes doubling as blatant metaphors for the lives that are stolen from us by the most undeserving sources.
Nowhere near the intensity of Green Room, mind you, but there’s performative power behind rhythms and lyrics that highlight the more psychotic theatrics of crueler intentions.
Songwriter Valentine (Britt Baron) takes the stage for what’s hoped to be her explosive comeback, and the crowd goes wild. Afterward, while collecting her belongings backstage, an old friend bribes the club’s staff to swiftly vacate. Valentine walks out to her ex-boyfriend Royal (Benedict Samuel), which comes as a shock, along with his new muse and songstress Trezzure (Anna Lore). Royal demands Valentine stop performing “his” songs – tracks Valentine wrote during their relationship – but this time she refuses to let her male abuser win. Done with the lies, pleas, and rage-fueled domination tactics.
Artist Dresage is credited with developing Valentine and Trezzure’s catalog, which is the most memorable aspect of My Valentine. Specifically, a song titled “The Knife” could be mistaken for another Metric or K.Flay chart-topper. Levin weaponizes lyrics as they cut through any situational “facade” that might be at play. Valentine’s words about dancing on the edge of a blade, written while dating Royal, speak to the volatility of their emotional entanglement. Of course, kept uptempo thanks to spunky keyboard beats that play against the otherwise volatile standoff at hand. What a voice, what a talent waiting to explode.
Digging deeper, one must parse messaging from execution. The film’s stance on someone’s personality being hijacked by a succubus partner is something real, something felt by so many who blame themselves for another’s actions. Flashbacks where Valentine excuses Royal’s devaluing remarks or physical violence due to crippling powerlessness ring anything but hollow. This is when My Valentine is at its best, fighting to show an outsider’s perspective on inflicted anguish that Valentine perceives much differently from within the hurricane so to speak. Love is messy, love isn’t always unbridled happiness, but it should never come at a sacrifice to self and Levin’s portrayal of these truths packs introspective oomph.
Inside the venue – the completely empty nightlife lounge that Royal “rents” for an hour without any hiccups – Levin loses grip of narrative implications. Between Royal’s unstable sways between sociopathic manager and sociopathic lover, to non-entity supporting characters who are barely developed past clothing choices. The “Trezzury” internet trolls, an opening act who bicker as at-work daters, the sole bartender who should have left, Valentine’s bestie and guitarist Julie (Anna Akana) – all puzzle pieces smashed into place. My Valentine only cares about the drama between Valentine, Trezzure, and Royal, which becomes all too evident by the way further altercations (deaths especially) are handled outside Levin’s focal triumvirate.
Speaking to Benedict Samuel’s performance, there’s plenty audiences might dub “exaggerated.” Viewer investment in My Valentine will come down to an individual’s ability to believe Royal could sustain these dreadful relationships (Valentine/Trezzure) despite his obvious harmful tendencies. Samuel walks a not-so-fine-line as if Royal channels Michael Madsen from Reservoir Dogs, except just in the ear-chopping scene. On speed. No subtlety or concealed intentions, grooving around a neon dance floor – knife in hand – while disco boogies and no one escapes. Despite the gravity of scenarios, it’s hard not to find inherent goofiness in the madman’s demeanor or planning. A mood killer, of sorts.
Then you have Valentine and Trezzure looking into a mirror of sorts, as one tries to shake the other from starry-eyed hypnosis. Britt Baron gets far more to do as she comes to terms with her pursuer’s stranglehold in a gutting finale monologue, while Anna Lord plays sidekick accomplice to much lesser effect. The later keeps rolling with her psychotic boyfriend’s promises that the last dead body will surely be all, because anything else he’s ever promised has stuck? What feels like a short film between three main characters has been elongated to fit feature lengths, as the premise wears thin after Royal’s umpteenth outburst.
There’s, unfortunately, a cheapness to the entirety of My Valentine. Into The Dark isn’t known for its massive budgets (cough Blumhouse cough), but stuffy locational entrapment doesn’t help Levin’s cause. Fade cuts and wipe transitions harm even worse, as we realize they’re not only going to be used during an introductory music video sequence. It’s the kind of film where actors are quite obviously never playing the song we’re hearing – chords strummed while single notes can be heard at high volumes – nor does the signature blue wig both Valentine and Trezzure wear leave a dashing impression. Levin knows how to drench a room in flashy saturated hues, but further execution is “rough” in ways that detract from intermittent highs.
My Valentine points cupid’s arrow with intent to kill, but misses the larger mark when it comes to structural cohesion. I cherish what Maggie Levin has to say, not to diminish importance, if only she’d had more time to subdue some of the film’s more outrageous tendencies. It’s a film that constantly seems at odds with itself, flying off the handle in spurts that feel out of place. At times the somber, piercing gaze into open wounds, at others the midnight movie that clutches shock value. In its current state, a production that’ll be best remembered for its contributions to Spotify playlists.
/Film Rating: 5 out of 10
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