By: Kayla Caldwell
We open on a petite young woman, walking down a dark street with a bottle of liquor. She’s attractive, but looks exhausted, like life had given her a walloping. In her ears are AirPods playing a podcast on codependency that at first felt comical, but in a moment, all too real.
“We all know that boundaries are crucial for successful romantic relationships,” the detached voice says. And suddenly, this is more than an episode of a horror anthology series. This is about to get real, and I am as good as sucked in.
In short, MY VALENTINE is Cam meets the Miley Cyrus episode of Black Mirror meets Green Room - with a touch of Scott Pilgrim’s whimsy.
Of course, that’s only if you want to boil MY VALENTINE down to an amalgamation of previous movie titles. But there’s a lot more to MY VALENTINE than just a poppy psychological thriller. It’s a commentary on gas-lighting in relationships, and a look at the control one person can really exert over another through violence, intimidation, and emotional abuse.
It’s a(n exaggerated) commentary on the toxicity of “stan” culture, and how some fans will go too far when it comes to defending their queen. It’s a look at fake sincerity, and how something as seemingly insignificant as putting on a baby voice or wearing pastel colors with juvenile patterns can be a weapon to trick others into thinking they have you right where they want you.
MY VALENTINE is a tale of self discovery, and finding the confidence and courage to stand up for yourself, consequences be damned. It’s also a damn good Blumhouse film, with mesmerizing costumes, catchy tunes, and gore for days. Caution: some spoilers ahead. *
Valentine (Britt Baron) is a struggling performer, free from a toxic relationship that has left her licking her wounds and listening to self-help podcasts to try to rebuild her fractured self-worth. However, with that relationship, Val didn’t just lose her sense of agency. She also lost her aesthetic, her entire catalogue of music, and any ownership of the sound she had created.
That baton was passed (non-consensually, on Val’s part) to her ex, Royal’s new girlfriend and protégé, Trezzure (Anna Lore). She’s got Val’s bangs, long blue hair, her glittery, dramatic eye makeup, and her favorite sunglasses. And she’s hit it big, all thanks to Valentine’s talent.
That would all be nightmarish enough. However, Royal (Benedict Samuel) is not happy with Val’s online efforts to defend herself, or her affinity for playing her own music at small, local gigs. So, MY VALENTINE begins with Royal crashing one of Val’s performances, and throwing the bartender $1,000 so he and his ex can have the place to themselves.
Now it’s just Val, her best friend Julie (Anna Akana), Royal, and three rabid Trezzure fans who attended the gig to heckle the woman they think is ripping off their number one. Things get scary quickly, as Royal smashes the women’s phones, and sends the fans to lock the door and bar Val from leaving.
Trezzure throws a wrench in his plans, entering the club in a cloud of glitter, and to split-screen shock reactions from her adoring fans and a horrified Valentine. Now it’s two against two.
Anyone who has ever been in an abusive relationship, be it romantic, friendly, or otherwise, knows the signs of gas-lighting - as well as how powerful it can be. When you don’t have a grasp over your own reality, it’s hard to properly defend yourself, something we see Valentine struggling with throughout the film.
Samuel plays his part beautifully - almost too well, one might say, seeing as just a few minutes after his arrival, I was already thinking to myself, “I HATE THIS GUY,” and ready to write off the whole thing as a miss for me. But it’s a fine line to walk to play this kind of sociopathic persona, one that many of us have unfortunately seen first-hand in real life.
His drastic threats and constant oscillation between loathing and love could come off as cartoonish, but it doesn’t. He lulls his victims into a false sense of security, with pet names like “sweetness” and by making empty promises, such as, “No one has a heart as big as mine, and it’s just for you.”
This is abuse 101. You separate the victim from any allies who could see what you’re up to - which Royal does, hiding Valentine’s phone when he feels she’s not giving him enough attention - and convince them that you are the only person who could ever love them.
He certainly did a number on Valentine, which is evident in her insecurity and initial struggle to find her own voice. But it’s also clear he’s doing the same thing to Trezzure, who receives a painful (yet subtle) punishment whenever she deviates from Royal’s specific instructions.
Royal quickly shows his true colors, devolving into the violent maniac Val knew him to be. He offs Val’s only remaining ally, before turning his attention on anyone else who dares to interrupt or disobey him.
Meanwhile, as a viewer, you’re trying to figure out Trezzure. What is she doing there? Is she really in so deep that she can’t see what’s going on? But, it will eventually come to light that she is not quite as simple-minded and malleable as she might have appeared.
As we near the final showdown of the movie, and Val has been emotionally and physically battered, she finally breaks down, telling Royal to just kill her already. “I consent!” she yells, laughing in a way that almost seems unhinged.
Of course, it’s no fun for an abuser like Royal if she wants his torture. As Val even says at one point, he can’t get it up if he thinks you’re enjoying the one-sided pain he passes off as BDSM (which should always be consensual).
Royal becomes almost childlike, whining at Valentine, “Why are you being so mean to me?” - as if years of torture and - oh yeah - stealing her entire performer persona wasn’t even just the slightest bit mean.
It’s a phenomenal portrayal of abuse, and why someone would continue to be with a person orchestrating such heinous acts. You can’t think about an abusive relationship from your perspective as a person with confidence and autonomy, because the abuser has done their work in stripping their victim of any of that.
In one particularly poignant scene - which director Maggie Levin says was a brilliant moment of ad-libbing from Samuel - Val laughs after Royal shocks her by saying he wants her back. “Don’t f**king laugh at me - I’ll f**king kill you!” Royal shrieks, before realizing his mistake, and adding, “No, I love you!”
It is a moment that gets a laugh, because of its absolute absurdity, but it also gives a glimpse at the troubled mind that’s still somehow angling to come out of this hellish night unscathed. In Valentine’s case, the abuse thankfully comes to an abrupt end, albeit a bloody, violent one.
Though she’s not in the clear just yet. She didn’t anticipate Trezzure’s role in the situation, likely assuming she was just an unwitting participant in Royal’s scheme, blinded by her love for him. However, she, as many are, is addicted to the love and attention of fame, and is not quite ready to let it go.
When Val is shocked by the turn of events, Trezzure utters another line that stood out to me, saying, “We’re not best friends just ‘cause the same guy screwed us.” I read something the other day that really stuck with me, and while I don’t remember the exact words, it went something like this, “Don’t mistake shared trauma for compatibility.” Isn’t that the truth?
I won’t spoil the entire ending for you, as I found it to be very enjoyable, and not quite what I was expecting. But I will say that this has quickly become one of my favorite episodes of Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into the Dark. It’s colorful. It’s bright and loud and dark, all at the same time.
There’s plenty of comic relief, thanks to a tumultuous couple who went on before Valentine’s set, as well as Trezzure’s over-the-top baby voice, and LOL-worthy reactions.
All of that being said, I’d be remiss not to mention a few things, one being that the music in the movie is fantastically catchy. I, myself, have had “The Knife” stuck in my head for days. And I’m not mad about it.
The second would be the amazing writing, which resulted not only in conversations you could actually imagine people having in real life, but also gems like Val saying, “I cordially invite you to suck the biggest possible bag of dicks. I mean, surplus-sized.”
Look, I could talk for days about MY VALENTINE - and I’m sure I will. But here I will leave it at, MY VALENTINE is a baby blue-hued thrill ride that you won’t want to disembark.
The seriousness of some of its subject matter is woven so skillfully into catchy pop songs and starry-eyed effects that you can digest the messaging without feeling like you’ve just watched a transparent Oscar hopeful or an after-school special.
So celebrate this month’s most greeting card of holidays by watching MY VALENTINE, on Hulu. You won’t regret it.
Images via Hulu and Blumhouse