Blumhouse Television’s new Hulu series “Into the Dark” is providing an unique opportunity for genre directors to produce new work. The anthology horror series launched in October, with the plan to have a new entry released each month tied to a holiday. However, unlike other anthology series, each episode is actually feature-length, which means that Blumhouse is producing one new horror movie every month. October’s Halloween-centric “The Body” allowed director Paul Fisher to expand on his short film of the same name, while cult genre filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo’s Christmas-centric “Pooka!” premiered today to rave reviews.
The next entry in the series, IndieWire has learned, comes from a filmmaker familiar from the festival circuit: Sophia Takal, the director of “Green” and “Always Shine,” helmed the all-female horror movie “New Year New You” for the series. The 85-minute feature will premiere on Hulu on December 28.
The all-female cast includes “Assassination Nation” and “The Bad Batch” star Suki Waterhouse, in addition to Carly Chaikin (“Mr. Robot”), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (“Killing Eve”), and Melissa Bergland (“Winners & Losers”). The plot centers on a group of old high school friends who reunite in a house for New Year’s Eve, where they’re forced to confront traumas from their past.
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Takal said she was approached by Blumhouse about the project in the early summer, with a script by Adam Gaines that she revised, and shot the project in 15 days between July and August. That’s a concise shooting schedule, even on microbudgets. “It was a really, really fast process,” she said. “I had a great crew around me. Even though it was chaotic, we didn’t feel like we lost anything.” While the tight schedule had more in common with the television production process, it provided Takal with the opportunity to step outside the safety zone of directing projects that she originated.
“This was my first time working as a director-for-hire,” she said. “I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to the project, but they trusted me.”
Takal’s previous features have followed the traditional route of arriving on the festival circuit and searching for distribution. “Green,” in which Takal starred opposite her husband Lawrence Michael Levine, premiered at SXSW in 2011; “Always Shine,” a tense thriller starring Mackenzie Davis and Catlin FitzGerald as old friends whose years of resentment come to a head during a vacation, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016. It opened in New York that fall.
While “New Year New You” won’t be released in theaters, the Hulu arrangement means that Takal’s movie will be available for a national audience a matter of months after wrapping production. “It’s been great to make a movie and know it’s going to premiere,” Takal said. “You don’t have to wait an entire year for it to go to festivals and then get released.”
Takal’s prior movies have been layered psychological thrillers about women whose envy and resentment for each build to suspenseful showdowns. “New Year New You” hails from that same tradition. “It’s in the vein of hysterical women horror movies,” Takal said, “but it’s really a satirical takedown of the loathsome internet culture of today.” Among the updates that Takal added to the script was the decision to make one of the characters a “social media health and wellness coach.” She described the plot as centering on “a crazy, scary, murderous New Year’s night,” and was keen on the timing of the release. “It’s fun that over the holidays, if someone’s sitting at home visiting their high school friends, they can watch this,” she said. “I think so far this is the most accessible movie I’ve made.”
Takal did receive notes from Blumhouse and Hulu during the editing process, but they found that part of the process more constructive than what she had dreaded. “It was my first time working with producers other than my friends,” she said. “I’d assumed, as a female director, people would undermine me and no one would trust me, but everyone was really supportive. Their notes are so helpful. They’re not annoying executive notes.”
Ironically, Takal was attached to the project months before Blumhouse Jason Blum faced immediate backlash for his comments in an interview where he addressed the company’s failure to hire women directors for any of its horror projects. “We’ve always been trying,” Blum said. “There are not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror.” He later apologized for the remarks.
Blumhouse announced plans to produce a thriller from “Mudbound” director Dee Rees earlier this year, but a source close to the project said it was still in the writing stage, which means that Takal’s movie is the first Blumhouse original directed by a woman coming to market. When Takal noticed the Blum comments in October, she said, they ran counter to her own experience with the company. “It just didn’t seem like how they really feel,” she said. “They’ve been so supportive of me and have been so assertive about talking to a lot of different directors. To me, they’re great for women.”
Following the typically resourceful Blumhouse model, Takal shot the entire movie in a single house — a beachfront abode in Santa Monica previously occupied by Cary Grant. The company introduced her to cinematographer Lyn Moncrief, but also allowed her to bring her “Always Shine” composer Michael Montes. “I definitely riffed on movies from the seventies, and referenced a lot of scary movies from then with the cinematography and editing,” Takal said. “I felt like it was a great way to get my feet wet in the world of directing other people’s ideas.”