New Horror Releases: Santa Clarita Diet (2017) - Reviewed

The first few moments of this remarkable show are awful. The acting is shallow, the costuming and sets appear artificial. The ensemble chemistry is awkward and the central relationship between Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore is stilted to the point of intolerable. Then, when you're reaching for the remote to end your visual suffering, something happens. The script does a 180, and the performances reveal their satiric intent, unmasking the Santa Clarita Diet as one of 2017's first creative darlings.

Victor Fresco's vision presents the suburban experience as a cardboard wasteland where cliché dysfunction is replaced with cautious complacency. Marriages' are devoid of passion, dreams are put on hold for parental obligations, and sexual intimacy is an item on a "Honey Do" list. Barrymore's sudden affliction upends the Prozac tranquility and brings the endless parade of personal concessions to the fore, which then reverberates throughout the ensemble's various story lines. Aside from side splitting banter, the fun is not in the reactions to over the top violence, but in how each continuous act of brutality causes the central couple to embrace the importance of what they have and make the best of it. 

While the vehicle for this (cannibalism) might seem extreme or unnecessary, it is precisely this truth that makes this show work on the various levels it constructs. Every instance of violence and every reference to the gruesome deeds can be substituted with the mundane responsibilities that consume time, and that is the heart of this blood drenched bake sale refutation. Barrymore's undead matron is the center of the chaos, delivering a duel layered turn that is both purposefully cringe worthy and subtlety engaging. From the inception, the viewer knows exactly where the story is heading, but Barrymore's interpretation keeps the satire alive throughout.

Timothy Olyphant delivers one of the best performances of his prolific career as a husband thrown into an unthinkable conundrum of the absurd. His comedic timing is not only surprising, but his dedication to the material makes his portrayal the centerpiece of the show, delivering line after line of unpredictable and instantly quotable dialogue. This is a show about dealing with the curve balls, how we downplay the bad for those we love, and most importantly, how we will move mountains (or bodies) for our tribes. 

Todd McMullen's cinematography delivers Rockwellian shots of the pristine environs undercut with sequences of bloody mayhem that hearken back to Raimi's Evil Dead series. The overall production design borrows heavily from Weeds and other shows with a similar central concept, but Debra Ferullo's devilish make up combines with Jonathan Boda's art design to assist Santa Clarita Diet to evoke a cacophony of horrific and genuinely hilarious delights. 

You're such a messy eater!

Available now on Netflix, Santa Clarita Diet is the antithesis of family procedural dramas that are currently dominating both the television market and awards shows. Featuring over the top slapstick violence, an outstanding ensemble performance, and one of the best small screen scripts in recent memory, this is an excellent choice if you're looking for a departure from the traditional comedic serial.

Share the hunger.

-Kyle Jonathan