Courtesy of Hulu

Hulu’s ‘Into the Dark’ tackles abusive relationships in ‘My Valentine’

A pop singer must confront her abusive ex-boyfriend in a captivating new installment of 'Into the Dark.'

Jul 6, 2020, 10:44 am*

Movies

 

Eddie Strait

Writer-director Maggie Levin’s My Valentine is a rip-roaring good time that takes a blowtorch to toxic masculinity. It’s one of the most purely fun and entertaining entries in Hulu’s Into the Dark series to date. My Valentine is clear in its themes and targets, and the execution is sharp. With its catchy synth-pop original songs and hyper-stylized aesthetic, My Valentine hits the ground running and rarely lets up over its 75-minute runtime. While the series has been successful with slow-burn stories like Pilgrim or New Year, New You, the most consistently enjoyable installments have been the direct, fast-paced ones like A Nasty Piece of WorkFlesh & Blood, and, now, the Valentine’s Day–themed My Valentine.

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My Valentine

 

RELEASE DATE: Feb. 7, 2020

DIRECTOR: Maggie Levin

STREAMING: Hulu

A pop singer must confront the abusive ex-boyfriend who nearly destroyed her personally and professionally.

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Set in the most sterile, hippest dive bar you’ll ever see, My Valentine has everything: two singers with long, electric blue hair, ranking members from an online fan group (including someone with an eye patch), an abusive narcissist, and some gnarly violence. Valentine (Britt Baron) and Julie (Anna Akana) kick off the movie onstage, performing for a middling audience. Valentine introduces an old song that she hasn’t played for a while, to the chagrin of a group of hecklers from a group called Trezzury. While the show goes on, the swaggering Royal (Benedict Samuel) comes in, flashing cash and taking over the room. From the bar to the stage, the whole mood changes with Royal’s arrival. He’s someone who only does things his way, and doesn’t understand why anyone would ever stop him. Someone like that can only be bad news.

Levin’s script is smart in how it builds its characters. This is Valentine’s story, but the film’s success rides on Royal. Royal is abusive, controlling, gaslighting, egotistic, and has a hair-trigger temper. He’s also handsome, charming, and magnetic. Samuel balances the various notes he has to hit and does it well. He’s a strong villain for Valentine and everyone else in the story to play off.

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Valentine is onstage in order to reclaim part of herself and take control of her story. She has history with Royal, both musical and romantic, and before things soured. Now she’s getting herself back together while Royal has molded his next girlfriend in Valentine’s image. Enter Trezzure (Anna Lore), sporting the same blue hair and look as Valentine. They look so much alike that it took an embarrassingly long time for me to accept that I was seeing two separate actresses. Credit the makeup team and the performances of Baron and Lore. Valentine and Trezzure are basically playing the same character at different points on similar emotional journeys, and Levin gives each character enough depth for them to feel separate and like two parts of a whole.

Into the Dark My Valentine
Patrick Wymore/Hulu

My Valentine hits its thematic stride once Royal is able to manipulate things to where he, Trezzure, Valentine, and Julie are the only people in the club. Forced to face her past in the most literal way possible, Valentine cannot avoid this confrontation any longer. It’s clear from Trezzure’s current state that Valentine has come a long way, but still has plenty of healing to do. While My Valentine is as subtle as a slap in the face, it never plays as grandstanding. Even within the confines of a real-time story, we see enough to understand why Valentine and Trezzure fell under Royal’s spell in the first place. It’s done in an interesting way, too: Royal’s introduction is him smooth-talking the male bartender as Royal bribes him. That lets us know that Royal may specialize in abusing women, but he can do this to anyone.

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The psychological depth is My Valentine’s strength. However, Levin doesn’t skimp on the thrills either. As the body count rises, Valentine and Royal become starker characters. Royal’s capacity for abuse reaches its natural nadir, while Valentine’s resolve only grows stronger. At its core, My Valentine is about acknowledging and confronting domestic abuse. It hits most of its targets with flourish. Between the sharp, observational writing, the visual flares (there are constant onscreen graphics to underscore certain points), and the film’s cotton candy color palette, Levin leaves no stone unturned.

After the New Year’s misfire, Midnight Kiss, it’s good to see Into the Dark get back on track. Levin, Baron, and Samuel stand out as the brightest stars here, but I have to give a few more shout outs. As Julie, Akana makes a strong mark. Julie is a tough and gets most of the script’s best lines, describing Royal as “a true crime series waiting to happen.” (Indeed, the series is purportedly based on a true story.) And this story about pop singers wouldn’t be complete without catchy songs, and singer-songrwriter Dresage delivers. One track, “The Knife,” is a standout (and gets a closing credits music video). Make sure you let that play to the end, and let’s all hope that good energy carries over to March.

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse or want more information on domestic violence and resources for victims, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline online or at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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*First Published: Feb 7, 2020, 8:00 am