Monday, October 5, 2020

Into the Culture Shock

Hulu's Into the Dark series has generally mixed reviews, so I'm now thinking I just have really good luck in randomly picking the good ones. 

Quick Plot: Marisol is making her second attempt to cross the Mexican border, seeking refuge in the United States. Her first try ended in tragedy and a brutal rape, leaving her heavily pregnant as she teams up yet again with a no-nonsense coyote. 

The less you know about Culture Shock going in the better, as it takes some sharp tonal turns in genuinely surprising ways. Director Gigi Saul Guerrero (who also did a lot of reworking of the original script by Efren Hernandez and James Benson) brings an incredibly fresh, immediate energy to the narrative, establishing a realistically bleak opening that makes the abrupt switch all the more effective. 

If you've seen Culture Shock or are that odd movie fan who likes to know too much, I'll go into a little more detail here.

As always, you've been warned.

After seemingly getting caught by violent cartel members, Marisol awakens in a bright, Stepford Wives existence where her healthy newborn is being cared by a way too smiley Barbara Crampton. The whole town of Cape Joy is cheerfully planning the big Independence Day celebration, but only Marisol seems to sense the extreme weirdness of waking up every day with perfect makeup and a non-wrinkled A-line dress.

The reveal of Cape Joy being nothing more than an elaborate (albeit surprisingly dirty) virtual simulation is sad and cruel, and fully loaded with important commentary. Like many a recent socially charged genre film, its story merits far more time than a brief 90 minute cutoff allows, which keeps this from quite reaching the echelon of greatness. Still, it shows a remarkably talented and unique voice in its director, and manages to be scary, funny, thoughtful, and surprising.

High Points
Guerrero's direction is wonderfully rich, but the movie would fall apart without Martha Higareda's steely performance as Marisol, who holds virtually every scene together

Low Points
The actual government conspiracy action-y climax didn't quite satisfy the incredible potential of the film's narrative, but an argument could easily be made that the villains were far from the main point of Culture Shock, so I'm not terribly bothered by the ending's slight disappointment (particularly when the final beat and Marisol's specific finale is so satisfying)

Lessons Learned
You can always judge a woman by the quality of her homemade soup

The best way to outsmart a cruel simulation is to not accept dessert

It seems I will never be about to outsmart a cruel simulation

Like the rest of the Into the Dark series, Culture Shock is a quick 90 minute stream on Hulu, and this one is absolutely worth your time. Go in blind and see what you find. 

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