Usually, I’m no fan of the horror genre nor abundant displays of gore, and by the reactions and comments of many viewers of this Netflix series, you might think I wouldn’t be the target audience. Nevertheless, ignorant at the time of others’ opinions, I thought it looked interesting and started watching it. Well, despite getting my eyes sucked out on stalks, chewed up and spat into orbit, I could not stop watching this dark and warped thriller as yet more astounding scenes unfolded.
Variously described by its detractors (and some of its fans) as shocking, offensive, grotesque, perverted, deranged, and the “pit of depravity”, it is certainly not for the faint-hearted or squeamish. How did such a gentle soul such as I endure such wickedness? When the carnage and trauma are framed in the ‘unreal’ I somehow find it easier to watch than true-to-life portrayals. Well, I like a good story, and I guess I’m just the kind of guy who likes to have his mind boggled by something original, outrageous and compelling.
Set in the 90s, the story follows a naïve young filmmaker who heads to Hollywood to get her movie made by a seasoned producer. The first episode is fairly tame and merely hints, once or twice, at the strangeness to come, but it isn’t until the last moment of the final scene that we are catapulted out to the Planet of Utter Weirdness that sets the tone for the rest of the series. And believe me, the weirdness knows no limits. It is delivered in regular slugs of hallucinatory thrills that left me gaping at the screen. Bewitched and enthralled, or maybe possessed, I had no choice but to keep tuning in for more.
Three strong leads make convincing characters in this mind-bending adventure, full of captivating visuals that will test the strength of your stomach and possibly your morals. Eric Lange is both charming and subtly creepy as Lou Burke, the devious film producer wishing to revive his heyday. Rosa Salazar is superb as the protagonist, Lisa Nova, the wronged woman in search of revenge. Her large eyes bulge appropriately in shock, awe and astonishment at each new otherworldly phenomenon. With a theme of ‘be careful what you wish for’, she seeks the help of the ambiguous and charismatic witch-like figure, Boro, played to perfection by Katherine Keener. She agrees to help – for a price. ‘Anything,’ says Lisa, but she could not have imagined the extraordinary method of payment that would be exacted (or extracted…) from her. Keener steals the show with her performance; her deadpan delivery of occult eccentricity in a dominion of macabre and nightmarish action adds fathoms to her eeriness.
I can’t finish without mentioning the controversial, “messed up” sex scene in episode 4, which had Netflix viewers turning off, and caused a social media storm when TikTok users challenged each other to watch it ‘blind’ and film their reactions. No one could deny it was gross, but my wife and I found it so bizarre, we had to laugh. I tried to imagine the actors’ responses when the director described the scene to them: “You want us to do WHAT?” A truly WTF situation in every sense of the term. There must be dozens of out-takes where the actors crack up in fits of giggles. I would love to see the gag reel.
Unapologetically low-brow, yet somehow simultaneously clever, the wily creator and producer, Nick Antosca, has manifested a truly original squirmfest of havoc and absurdity. Nonetheless, despite the craziness, this is a powerful satire, with bold themes of power and exploitation, which play to the human desire of rooting for the underdog.
And it didn’t give me nightmares, honest.
If you’re not tempted by my review, maybe just watch it for the kittens…
Geoff King is a self-published writer and irregular blogger currently studying for an honours degree in Creative Writing at the University of the Highlands and Islands. https://geoffkingwriter.co.uk/