In 2018, Hulu began a series called Into the Dark. These horror films, produced by Blumhouse Productions, feature stories based on holidays. April 1, popularly known as April Fools’ Day, is an absolute treasure box of ways to create a scare or two, so in 2019 the holiday received its very own Into the Dark installment with the cheekily-titled I’m Just F*cking With You, directed by Adam Mason.
Our main character Larry (Keir O’Donnell) is an anti-hero you’ll find it difficult to root for. When we first see him, he’s on a “fakebook” app trolling his ex-girlfriend on the eve of her wedding to someone else…and he’s doing this while driving. See? We already hate him. Larry checks in to a roadside motel that seems to be run by the dopey Chester (Hayes MacArthur), who immediately starts putting Larry on the spot and then gaslighting him with the tiresome bit, “I’m just f*cking with you!” Larry’s not in the mood for shenanigans at his own expense, so he goes to his room for some quality time with himself (ahem), while continuing to troll his ex. Larry also calls his sister Rachel to come and join him, but after more of Chester’s pranks that make him a fool, Larry’s had it and angrily tries to leave the motel. Chester’s hurt: why doesn’t Larry appreciate his humor? They’re just jokes, man! Rachel arrives, and she and Larry decide to stay the night and check out in the morning. Only, they can’t sleep because Chester is now outside their window in a very loud fight with an angry biker over a prank. Chester kills the biker, and all hell breaks loose: Larry and Rachel discover the bodies of the motel’s real owners hacked to pieces in the freezer, and Chester steals the keys to both of their cars. Chester claims the owners killed each other but is this another prank? Or are the pranks a symptom of something much more sinister going on?
It’s hard to root for either Larry or Chester in this movie. They’re both despicable people: Larry seems like the quiet, serious type on the outside, but on the inside, he’s a raging monster. He has a pathological need to terrorize his ex-girlfriend, Cindy. After a while, it seems like maybe Cindy broke up with him because she caught a glimpse (or more) of Larry’s true nature. And Chester starts out as that annoying guy who never knows when to quit, though this goofy exterior covers a true psychopathic serial killer. Everyone else in the film falls victim to at least one of these two reprehensible creatures.
I’m Just F*cking With You contains two and a half “Cluvies,” and we’ll get to the “half” part shortly. Larry and Chester are both White guys, both likely heterosexual (with Chester hinting that he has engaged in some extremely taboo sexual acts), both cis-gendered, and both able-bodied. Neither of them is emotionally functional, which can partly be blamed on a society that teaches straight White men to cope with unpleasant feelings by taking it out on others. But only partly; the rest is all Larry and Chester being horrible.
The first Cluvie we see is the sheriff (John Marshall Jones), an older Black man who clearly would rather be doing anything else besides getting involved with these two idiots and their misunderstandings. But the sheriff doesn’t even get the dignity of a name in this movie. And though not the first death we see, he ultimately winds up in the same state as every other Black character in horror films.
The second Cluvie is Larry’s sister Rachel. As Larry’s sole confidant (and, it’s hinted, his only friend), Rachel bears the burden of caring for Larry and keeping his alternate identity under control. And after a while, she, too, falls prey to a horror movie trope and becomes Larry’s refrigerator girl.
Now, the half-Cluvie. When Larry finally checks into his motel room, he immediately sneers at the low-brow setup. He whips out some medical gloves, hand sanitizer (ah, the pre-quarantine days!), and even his own UV light to inspect and clean every square inch of the room before he can relax. I count this as half a Cluvie because he may actually have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As the family member of at least two people with clinically diagnosed OCD, I know what this disease looks like. Contamination phobias are a very real part of life for some OCD sufferers; so is the pathological inability to stop obsessive thoughts that intrude on your everyday life. So the symptoms for Larry having actual OCD are there, but it’s never explicitly brought up in the film. Maybe he does have OCD, but maybe he’s just a pretentious snob.
While I’m Just F*cking With You does an excellent job of exploring what it means to go too far with a joke, and how that relates to the abusive behavior of gaslighting, it also highlights the societal expectation placed on women and people of color to step in and manage White men’s bad behavior. In this movie, Rachel and the sheriff exist solely to pull Larry and Chester back from their own worst impulses. They fail, of course, and suffer the consequences of that failure. Larry and Chester suffer, too, but they are their own (and each other’s) worst enemies. Rachel and the sheriff are punished because two White guys didn’t know how to behave themselves.
As far as horror movies go, this one is well-paced and suspenseful. Even the audience is left wondering at what point Chester is going to stop his juvenile pranks. There’s plenty of blood for those who like their horror sprinkled with gore. Overall, the horror aspect of this movie is pretty good. MacArthur is devilishly brilliant as Chester; he’s incredible to watch for the sheer pleasure of his depravity. (I’ll certainly never be able to hear the song “Dancing in the Moonlight” the same way again.) But the diversity element leaves much to be desired.
Movie Review originally published by Meredith Morgenstern on Medium