Recap: The Santa Clarita Diet


Available on Netflix February 3

Spoilers on the first half

Meet Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila Hammond (Drew Barrymore). They sort of like their bland, upper-middle class, Southern California life. Shelia and Joel are real estate agents. They have a surly teenage daughter Abby (Liv Hewson). Their home is between two rival, alpha-male cops Dan and Rick. Dan (Ricardo Chavira) also acts as a one-man homeowner’s association. His wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) is phony and bored. His stepson, Eric (Skylar Gisondo) is a nerd and has a crush on Abby. Abby is indifferent.

Their suburban dream is interrupted one morning, when Sheila feels a pain in her lower abdomen. Later while showing a house, she projectile vomits in front of the buyers. It’s worse than The Exorcist. Total faux pas, and everyone pretends they can’t hear her vomiting her insides out in the bathroom for the next ten minutes. Joel finds her in a bathroom that looks like the lobby from The Shining, but with a kale smoothie. She’s also thrown up an organ apparently.

They can’t worry about that too much though, because the new guy, Gary (Nathan Fillion) might steal their big sale. He also shamelessly hits on Sheila in front of Joel. But Sheila kind of likes it. She’s feeling different, a little frisky. She buys a new Range Rover and starts clubbing. Oh, and she can’t feel her heartbeat and craves raw meat.

After consulting Eric, the family concludes that Shelia is “undead.” They’re not using the zed word. They’re not entirely sure what she is; but, just in case, they figure it’s a good idea to keep her fed. They wouldn’t want to see her when she’s hungry.

Speaking of cravings, Gary is thirsting for Sheila. He sneaks up on her in her backward one morning. In a predatory Gaston-y way, tries to get Shelia to have sex with him. It almost works, until Shelia gets hungry. Nathan Fillion has been Marion Craned.

This is a triple-D cocktail: equal parts Desperate Housewives, Dexter, and Death Becomes Her. The first five episodes are binge-worthy. Each episode is about 25 minutes, and while the tonal shifts are awkward, the chemistry between the leads is charming. It’s fun watching Joel and Sheila figuring out how to be serial killers while maintaining their perfect façade.

One criticism is that Sheila isn’t fully set up as a meek suburbanite. Her transformation into a cussing, impulsive realtor doesn’t stick. They rely a little too much on Barrymore’s natural sweetness. It’s a safe tactic, because Drew Barrymore is just adorable, especially when she’s cheerfully making a brain smoothie.

As the uptight and cowardly Joel, Timothy Olyphant veers into manic desperation.  His pasted smile is borderline psychotic. His only outlet is weed, which annoys Sheila. One day, in his impotent rage, he destroys the toaster oven. I wish there was a little more to his character than failed musician. Oh well.

The first half of The Santa Clarita Diet deals with Joel and Sheila trying to find appropriate victims. Joel is trying to figure out what happened to Sheila. Sheila is “following her passion” and “living her best life.” She’s become the neighborhood Oprah. Abby starts having trouble in school. She and Eric become friends. Meanwhile, Dan is snooping around their yard. He thinks there’s something up with the Hammonds.



It Follows (2015)

Dir. David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto

A slow burning horror film. It Follows successfully blends supernatural horror with early slasher films. Some may be disappointed by the deliberate pace and the lack of surprise. However, the film’s atmosphere is hypnotic, and it will stay with you after you leave the theater. SPOILERS ?

It begins with a teenage girl running for her life through a quiet suburban neighborhood. She is half dressed and improbably wearing red stilettos. Like a virulent outbreak of the clap, It Follows is a cautionary tale of the consequences of premarital sex. After an idyllic first time Janie (Maika Monroe) is drugged and tied to a chair by her beau. He tells her now something is after her, and the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on by having sex with someone else. It Follows, cribs the style of earlier slashers like Friday the 13th and Carpenter’s Halloween. But rather than the faceless enemy, “It” in It Follows takes the form of people known to the victim. A chilling commentary on sexual violence.

Also, unlike those earlier films, it’s more interested in the emotional aftermath and not the body count. Look elsewhere for gory, blood-soaked kills. Janie soon enlists the help of her friends, and the adolescent love triangles become the heart of the film. The teenagers are somewhat interchangeable, but their anxiety and longing is communicated. This is especially true for Paul (Keir Gilchrist) the wannabe savior, desperate to leave the friend zone. The monster in It Follows remains unnamed and ill-defined, perhaps by design. Simply speaking, the loss of innocence is a traumatic and inescapable experience. Because of the film’s emphasis on character rather than jump scares, It Follows stays with you. It does for walking what The Ring did for static on T.V.

Stylistically, It Follows continues the trend of retro-style horror, like The House of the Devil and You’re Next. It has the look, the filter, of an older film. The costuming and settings are older. The camera is steady. It’s only noticeable flair is the slow, searching zoom, which services the story by cultivating paranoia. It even has a synth heavy soundtrack by Rich Vreeland. Despite the old packaging and classical storytelling approach, it’s refreshing. It isn’t an “updates” nor does it try to subvert the genre. Cell phones and e-readers live harmoniously with analog televisions and wood-paneled walls. It Follows successfully fuses old tropes to create a unique film.

Recommend: Yes, BUT…do not go in with the expectation that it will be “the best American horror film in years.”

Availability (US): Wide theatrical release 27 March

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Dark Hearts: Top 5 Rom Coms Gone Wrong

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Valentine’s Day approaches, and if that makes you feel glum, do not despair. Do not cry into a pint of rocky road.  We’ve got your back and brought an extra spoon.  Top 5 Rom Coms Gone Wrong (Fatal Attraction memorial).  Here are five films that begin with a meet-cute, a manic pixie dreamgirl, or a serendipitous meeting.  But end with a boiled rabbit and a trail of bodies.  As you dig into that pint, just be happy love has never made you this crazy.  However, if you happen to be taking notes while watching, make sure the object of your obsession is worth it.  It doesn’t end pretty.

New Movies

The Babadook (2014)

dir. Jennifer Kent

I tried to ignore the hype.  The Babadook has been hailed as the scariest movie of the year, one of the scariest movies of all time, yada, yada, yada.  My take is that The Babadook, a story about a supernatural boogeyman that terrorizes a mother and her son, is the scariest movie of 2014.  It blurs the psychological and supernatural horror elements effectively.

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