Into the Dark hasn’t had a new episode come out since July 2020’s The Current Occupant, but the Blumhouse anthology series is back with Tentacles for 2021’s Valentine’s Day installment. Each episode of Into the Dark follows a theme around the month it airs in, typically focusing on a holiday, and who doesn’t love Valentine’s Day horror?
Promising a psycho-sexual thriller, Tentacles begins with a dreamy sequence of our main character, Tara, visiting open houses — they’re a great place for her to take a nap. She wanders through aimlessly until she meets Sam (Casey Deidrick) and strikes up a conversation. Tara’s just moved to LA, “from somewhere East of here”, and she startles easily. Sam’s a photographer, and he seems a little quick to anger. Their romance takes off quickly.
Sam and Tara’s relationship is absolutely full of red flags. Sam seems unstable; he drinks a lot during the day time, and he’s volatile. Tara startles easily – she explains that she’s been trying to get away from a stalker. You might feel like you know where this relationship is heading, but Tentacles does an excellent job building up the mystery of what exactly is wrong with this couple.
There’s a degree of camp present in some of the Into the Dark episodes, and it works best in the horror episodes (A Nasty Piece of Work, Pilgrim). Tentacles is an attempt at blending campy horror with a thriller. The ridiculous elements work in Tentacles’ favor: Dana Drori’s performance as Tara is often exaggerated. She’s not believable in scenes where she’s angry or tense, instead acting out a caricature of these emotions. While her performance may seem on the lackluster side here, it actually really works when we find out the truth about her character.
Sam’s best friend and business partner, Esther (Kasey Elise) is the moral compass and voice of reason of Tentacles. While we do have some moments between Sam and Esther that show their genuine bond, more time should have been spent establishing and showing this relationship. The few moments are sweet and hint at an affection that’s missing in Sam and Tara’s romance. A deeper look at this platonic love between Sam and Esther would make the blows that are dealt at the end of the film heavier; instead, Esther’s story line lacks any real emotional weight.
The gore in Tentacles is minimal, but what there is sure is gross. As the tension of the film reaches a boiling point, there’s a particularly nasty moment Sam has in his car that’s the kind of thing people will remember about this film. There’s also a memorable, and pretty ridiculous, time-lapse sex scene.
*Trigger/slight spoiler warning for the rest of this review!*
The decision to include a brief moment of sexual violence is completely unnecessary and does not add anything at all to the story. This isn’t a film about a woman taking back her power or seeking revenge against the men who’ve wronged her; there’s really no legitimate reason for this to be part of Tara’s story – it changes absolutely nothing about her character arc. While the moment is used to build up to the violence that ensues, it’s not something that needs to be seen explicitly on screen.
Throughout the film, Tara is violating Sam. He can’t consent to what is happening because he doesn’t know what is happening. The way this is portrayed is more insidious and more effective than the aforementioned moment of sexual violence. Having a female antagonist is something of a nice reversal of common horror tropes, but this reversal is ultimately diminished once we learn the truth of what Tara’s character is.
Tentacles is not a love story gone awry, like it promises to be. We don’t really have any reason or motivation for Tara’s actions until the reveal at the end of the film, when everything we’ve been led to believe about her proves untrue. It’s effective as horror; the body horror element of Tentacles is excellent (but don’t call it “Lovecraftian” just because there are tentacles involved, please). Tara’s motivation, quite simply, is that she is a monster in the literal sense. As a psychological/psycho-sexual thriller, though, there’s an element of human connection that works well in similar films (think Spring) that’s missing here.
While Tentacles may be one of the better episodes of Into the Dark, there are issues holding it back from being a truly great or memorable horror story. It’s also not really a Valentine’s Day tale. If you’ve enjoyed the other Into the Dark episodes, though, you’ll appreciate this creepy installment.
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