Back in October, producer Jason Blum came under fire for comments made about Blumhouse's lack of female directors in its expansive horror feature filmography. Horror fans were dismayed by Blum's suggestion that it's hard to find female helmers interested in horror. This controversy came as a surprise to Sophia Takal, who is being credited as "Blumhouse's first female director" in press releases for New Year, New You, the latest episode of the horror studio's Hulu anthology series Into the Dark.
In an interview with SYFY FANGRRLS, Takal described watching this kerfuffle unfold as "weird." She explained, "I can only speak to what my experience was working with him. But I just felt totally supported. I felt like they wanted to make a movie with a woman and they were aware of my work prior to this. So I felt like my femaleness was part of why they hired me, but in a way that I was totally comfortable and happy about. Because it seemed like they really wanted to tell a movie from a female point of view. Like step out of the Male Gaze that is so often associated with horror."
Starring an all-female cast, New Year, New You centers on four high school friends who reunite for a life-changing (and life-threatening) New Year's Eve celebration. Blumhouse called in Takal to bring her own spin to Adam Gaines' script and helm this New Year's Eve entry in the holiday-focused film series. Some cynics have snarked that this is a blatant attempt at Blumhouse doing damage control after Blum's disastrous interview, but the film's production timeline refutes that. New Year, New You was quietly shot over the summer, months before Blum's remarks. The announcement of its talent—including Takal and Killing Eve's Kirby Howell-Baptiste—didn't come until December, likely held to optimize publicity for its release. So when the controversy first sparked, Takal couldn't share her thoughts about working with Blumhouse, because it hadn't yet been revealed she had! Now she can reveal that it was such "a blast" that she hopes to work with the horror studio again. And that she knows "other women who are developing movies with the company," including upcoming films for Into the Dark.
As an actress/writer/director, Takal has previously won critical acclaim for Green and Always Shine, a pair of female-fronted thrillers on which she collaborated with her husband, Lawrence Michael Levine. Both these films dig into the unique horror of female rivalry, as does New Year, New You. Takal's latest centers on an emotionally and physically scarred twenty-something named Alexis (Suki Waterhouse), who is stewing with jealousy over the growing fame of her high school bestie Danielle (Carly Chaikin), a health and fitness guru with a huge internet fanbase. In Gaines' draft, Danielle was a "social media celebrity." It was Takal's idea to specify her as a "self-love, Goop-culturey, moon-juicy kind of person."
"I'm really drawn to talking about things that make women feel bad about themselves," Takal said. "Mainly because I find that when I talk about these things, they end up having less of a hold on me or occupying less mental space. So, if women are feeling bad about themselves because they're not living up to this idea of what they should look like or how they should present themselves or the types of food they should be eating, or the amount of sleep they should be getting, or the types of yoga they should be doing? I just feel like having a conversation about how actually narcissistic and unrealistic and damaging that idea of extreme self-love is. [Talking about] this idea that somehow we deserve ultimate happiness, hopefully, will allow people to realize how ridiculous the whole concept is. And that doesn't mean people shouldn't love themselves. But loving your essential self is really different than presenting a carefully curated image on Instagram."
This change in the script came from a personal place for Takal. "I used to have a mantra that was very externally oriented," she shared. "And then I realized, I have the tools to be happy right now. I shouldn't be looking for outside validation." She explained, "[It's about] shifting the focus from 'I'm going to get everything I want, and I deserve everything and I'm going to drink the right juices' to like, 'I'm okay and I'm enough.'"
This line between self-love and narcissism is the dark heart of New Year, New You. "I think the impulse is good because women can often feel like shit about themselves because of the way they're portrayed in the media. But this is like that but then with the added element of 'But you should actually love yourself.'"
New Year, New You premieres as part of Hulu's Into The Dark on December 28.