(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
Chelsea Stardust’s All That We Destroy is the antithesis Mother’s Day feature to Troma’s splattery, schlocky exploitation (Mother’s Day) that once dominated May’s most honorable Sunday (for genre fans). Where Charles Kaufman favors shock and awe, Stardust brings method and layered trauma to this month’s Into The Dark segment. It’s a portrait of a serial killer under mama’s containment, but not in a mentor/trainee scenario. Screenwriters Sean Keller and Jim Agnew splice scientific reinvention, parent/child complications, and the unanswerable constants of human nature into a true crime podcast’s next subject. Making a murderer, Into The Dark style.
Samantha Mathis stars as Dr. Victoria Harris, a renown geneticist who works from home in close proximity to son Spencer (Israel Broussard). Victoria’s current project involves cloning, memory loss, and a recycled tragedy from Spencer’s past, which explains why the boy is under issued house arrest. An opening sequence that involves Spencer and Victoria’s latest “Ashley” (Aurora Perrineau) makes it clear that we’re witnessing no mere business trial. Victoria is doing this for Spencer’s sake, and the more we learn about his current condition or relationship with “Ashley,” the darker Victoria’s motives and caretaking becomes.
On an aesthetic level, All That We Destroy modestly likens to Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade given how they’re both independent features (on different levels) that build all-involving futuristic worlds. Each time an “Ashley” awakens, she’s covered in this sludgy black primordial goop like rejuvenating motor oil. We’re grounded to the Harris estate much like Spencer, but Stardust maximizes details like holographic smartphones made from rectangular glass or communication devices that can project users into an alternate realm for face-to-face chats no matter location. Hence how Victoria contacts husband Parker (Frank Whaley), who’s off premises while Victoria fights for their child’s well-being alone. Stardust’s world is cerebral, entrapping, and thoroughly imagined, making the most of minimalist means.
On the flip side, All That We Destroy continues Into The Dark’s visual proclivity to not play up the festiveness of holidays. When Hulu and Blumhouse announced their holiday horror venture, collaborative expectations assumed something livelier in tonality. Stardust’s themes undoubtedly align with Mother’s Day, but the drabness of sterile household drama and surgical sincerity run a bit dry at times. Victoria’s morally ambiguous treatment of Spencer implies a mother’s undying love that’s so different than Parker’s more matter-of-fact, disassociated father. Based on storyboarded arcs, we’ve seen killers be humanized as children while interacting with loved ones who desperately want to help. All That We Destroy goes a step further based on Victoria’s motherly devotion, but bloodline complications fail to riff on terrifying psychological torment with sustained “mad scientist” tragedy.
Victoria’s parental capacity for compassion is also her biggest fault, as extended absences from company premises lead to quotes like, “If I were a man they’d call me an eccentric or a genius, not an overprotective mother.” Mathis’ performance separates ma’s from pa’s (in this scenario) by connecting with Victoria’s protective instincts at all costs. For how detached Israel Broussard’s Spencer remains while a rotating door of Aurora Perrineau-played victims relives the same hell in different vessels, Mathis’ hope falls on blank stares. As a parent, there’s nothing scarier than not being able to save or “fix” your child. Victoria’s “progress” is rooted in these very fears, which Mathis helplessly evokes in fits of unenviable frustration.
What helps All That We Destroy is never having to question *if* Spencer is a killer. That’s all sorted out in the film’s opening scene. Stardust opens the door for character-building additions such as his artistic talents (sketches are intriguing), the addition of Dora Madison as love interest/nosy neighbor Marissa Cornell, and more than just stories about animal abuse or playground misbehaving. We’re able to appreciate core chemistries and acting, even though establishing details are base-value generic. As I said, you’ve seen these serial killer signs laid out over and over, with little more to be added here. Themes of sacrificial victimization, biological advancement, and a mother’s forever championing are far more intriguing.
All That We Destroy is a tale of heartache, inevitability, and how a mother’s role can never be overstated. Chelsea Stardust demonstrates a keen eye for finding value in indie productions, even if the story itself is somewhat expected despite human replication breakthroughs. Samantha Mathis gives her life for child, Israel Broussard coldly attempts to kick his habit, and in the end, we’re treated to parenthood tribulations no mother or father could fathom navigating. Violent cinematography and Broussard’s commitment to robotic depravity are the highlights here, making for another by-the-books Into The Dark watch that’s recommendable enough for your late-night streaming needs.
/Film Review: 6.5 out of 10
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