I’ve been a fan of Hulu and Blumhouse’s joint series Into the Dark since it began in 2018. As an anthology, with a different episode every month that uses a holiday in that month as a starting point for the story, this series is great, but the strongest episodes like Pure and Culture Shock excel because they ground themselves in real horrors. It’s not the blood or the fantastic elements that tell its story, it’s the way the audience can find themselves in the story. My Valentine, the Valentine’s Day episode hurts to watch in the ways that horror does when it succeeds in telling a story based on real-world emotions.
Written and directed by Maggie Levin, My Valentine follows Valentine (Britt Baron), whose songs and artistic identity have been stolen by her ex-boyfriend/manager Royal (Benedict Samuel) who shamelessly pasted them onto his new girlfriend/protégé, Trezzure (Anna Lore). Levin imagines what happens when the two worlds collide and find themselves face-to-face. Locked together in a small concert venue after hours, the trauma of the past is resurfaced. Valentine is a survivor and she’s lost more than her songs.
As the night unfolds we learn that Royal is nothing but a manipulative abuser and through flashbacks triggered by moments of dialogue between Valentine and him, we learn the backstory. My Valentine’s dialogue left me gutted. Royal’s lines, his gaslighting, and the moments where he broke Valentine down into small pieces by telling her that no one would love her like him. It all hurt to listen too, and it hurt because it rings so true for those who have experienced those situations. Throughout the story, the horror pushes all the beats of a rape-revenge story, with Valentine put in the position to claim her revenge for a stolen life.
Then, this neon-soaked story deviates greatly. My biggest issue with My Valentine is not how it was directed, as the splicing of music videos of bubblegum pop into horrific moments works extremely well as was the bright pinks and blues washing out the gore of some of the kills. The issue I have with My Valentine is that Valentine, our final girl, the woman most hurt by the man wreaking havoc and mayhem in the venue never once has a moment of agency instead falling into her happy ending without lifting a finger. While the film exceeds all expectation in the first two acts, the third acts takes a tumble, as Valentine isn’t given her triumphant moment over her abuser but instead lucks into it by the actions of another and a cut wire.
The power in the rape-revenge subgenre comes from the final girl reclaiming her agency, and while My Valentine’s ending offers up a variant of that, it feels empty. Not only empty for what we just saw Valentine go through while being retraumatized but empty for the other characters who died leading up to it, which are sadly all people of color. The way that the film opens, it left me raw, having to pause it a few times because of the authentic experience on screen. But it feels hollow as the credits roll.
That said, while it misses the power that comes in a film like Revenge, this hyper-stylized film provides one of the most accurate depictions of emotional abuse I’ve seen in a while. In My Valentine, the audience is made clear how hostile an “I love you” or “I need you” can be and how those words can be turned into weapons just as easily as words meant to wound. Even with my issues, Valentine screaming “I’m fucking broken” from the stage at her abuser is a cathartic moment that many people will never feel. While Valentine rebuilds herself, in the end, she does so through the tools of her abuser which while frustrating for me offers up a commentary all of its own. Sometimes, the way out is in, and sometimes you need to use what broke you to make you stronger.
My Valentine is going to leave people divided. It’s a visually gorgeous film that flickers like a neon sign but audiences will only get what they bring into it. If you’re coming into the film with trauma, you may very well identify with it, as I did. That said, if you have come out of the other side of your trauma already you may take issues with how Valentine resolves her. But, with subjective experiences, her ending may blow you away.
My Valentine will stream exclusively on Hulu on February 7th.
Photo Credits: Patrick Wymore/Hulu
Into the Dark: My Valentine
My ValentineÂ is going to leave people divided. It’s a visually gorgeous film that flickers like a neon sign but audiences will only get what they bring into it.