In Hulu’s holiday-based horror anthology series, Gigi Saul Guerrero’s 4th of July-themed immigration and assimilation-themed story is at the top.
[This post originally appeared as part of Recommendation Machine, IndieWire’s daily TV picks feature.]
Where to watch “Culture Shock”:Hulu
“Into the Dark,” which wrapped its second season earlier this year on Hulu, is an anthology series. By its very nature, there’s a certain quality of randomness, especially when collecting horror adds the constraint of tying each installment to a holiday. Some can get halfway too cute, while others (like Nacho Vigalondo’s bonkers “Pooka!” or the more recent “Blood Moon”) strip those ties to find the thematic strength beneath.
That’s what makes “Culture Shock,” the Gigi Saul Guerrero-directed episode of “Into the Dark,” shocking at times, and it’s also hard to talk about the specific turns it takes without giving away its ultimate goal. Yet, effectively told in three parts, it balances all of those entries, making it a standout among the “Into the Dark” episodes and Blumhouse’s greatest body of work overall.
The first third is the one that Guerrero recounts without flinching, following Marisol (Martha Higareda) as she tries to get to the US-Mexico border. “Culture Shock” shows why Marisol chooses to leave her home while showing the potential dangers of a journey to the frontier, with many people along the way feeding on bodies, savings and hope.
It’s a heartbreaking opening that Guerrero deftly flips on its head once Marisol arrives at its destination. After traveling under cover of darkness (DP Byron Werner illuminates some of these sections as if Marisol and her companions were moving through an endless void with only the light of a lantern to guide them), Marisol wakes up in a pastel-drenched neighborhood that’s suburban, heartland, and old-fashioned colonial all rolled into one. It’s a retro ’50s take on Americana that she instantly recognizes as quirky.
The way Guerrero leans into this contrivance, showing that this new soup of patriotism and similarity is its own waking nightmare, is another unsettling escalation manual. Every new personal detail or phrase erased from the national slogan manual (Barbara Crampton makes “You’re in America now, the land of plenty” more sinister than it’s ever been) is one more layer Marisol must both recognize and confront.
All of this is made manifest by a slew of genre touches — robotic Stepfordized movement, an “I Got You Babe” approach to the national anthem, haunting close-ups of eyes, glitchy faces — that would feel stale if they didn’t. were not put to such effective use. (Additional credit also to the sound team for making a bite out of a piece of pizza look like a crunchy animal carcass.) All of these choices are deployed in a confident, simple, and unapologetic way with no subtlety that indicates threat. in the metaphor.
It’s not a neat comparison, but this take on a supposedly idyllic town that hides something dark beneath makes other recent attempts pale in comparison. In the process, “Culture Shock” finds a powerful way to address trauma, identity, and control, all without detracting from its connections to the real world.
Pair it with: Last fall, Carlos Aguilar wrote this extremely useful primer on recent Latinx horror movies. With plenty of places to rent/stream others, “Culture Shock” is one of ten titles from the past half-decade poised to relaunch a handful of different lineups.
Other fans: In this LA Times interview with Yolanda Machado, Guerrero talks about how language plays a role in “Culture Shock,” both in its pressure on the use of Spanish on screen and in the way whose on-set conversations helped convey a more authentic message. idea of what the title really stood for.
Missed other Recommendation Machine releases? You can read all previous releases here.