Not Quite Horror is back from the dead. After resting for a bit in its kind-of creepy but still-normal-enough-to-pass-as-regular crypt, our biweekly series returns. In each installment, Joey Keogh will argue why a chosen film not generally classified as horror actually exhibits many of the qualities of a great flight flick, and therefore deserves the attention of fans as an example of Not Quite Horror. This week, it’s Netflix’s stylish stalker series, You.
Netflix’s You generated major controversy primarily with regard to certain viewers’ obsession with Penn Badgley’s dishy stalker, Joe. Personally, I didn’t really understand the hoopla. Although Badgley is considerably less irritating here than in Gossip Girl (give me strength), he’s skinny and wide-eyed and…odd. There’s a predatory slavishness to how he watches Elizabeth Lail’s Beck. He stands outside her apartment and wanks. He isn’t attractive, he’s creepy.
Still, it makes sense to cast someone like Badgley in this kind of role rather than, say, a Caleb Landry Jones (who I adore and would happily watch in anything, don’t get me wrong), the mere sight of whom would send most normal women running for the hills. Joe has to be somewhat conventionally good looking in order to explain why Beck is such a dumbass about him, and why she ultimately falls victim to his charms.
You has been on Netflix for a while so if you haven’t binged it yet, there’s probably a reason. It’s not the kind of series one really recommends to friends, although it’s obviously been a major water-cooler topic the past few months, both figuratively and literally speaking. Horror fans will be impressed by just how gory the series gets, particularly considering someone is badly beaten up right off the bat with a blunt object and then locked in a cage.
Sure, the thing makes little to no sense and most of the episodes flit by in a haze of “huh?” meaninglessness. Each bizarre revelation makes the story even less plausible and yet you keep watching in the hopes it will all eventually make sense. It doesn’t, but there’s enough dark insanity to enjoy that the denouement isn’t a deal-breaker. But, to the series credit, it does stick the landing.
Lail and Badgeley are both fine in the lead roles but the real standout character is Pretty Little Liars star Shay Mitchell as the diabolical Peach, a scheming socialite who’s more than a match for Joe and just as infatuated with Beck, if not more so. That she isn’t allowed to be the true antihero of the series is a real shame, but no matter, she gets the best outfits, the best lines, and the most shocking end (that’s not really a spoiler, just prepare yourself).
You has that same sheen to it that Leighton Meester’s (another Gossip Girl alum) Single White Female redux, The Roommate, had in that it exists in a world (in this case, New York City) practically nobody on Earth will recognise, but that you enjoy spending time in regardless. This is a world of popular bookshops and bottomless cocktails and stunning country homes where even the supposedly poorest character lives in a massive apartment.
It also boasts an idea of stalking, coercion, and manipulation that clearly resonates with certain (female) viewers in a way that’s slightly worrying. Is Badgley’s character attractive because he’s so obsessed with Beck? Is he more or less of a jerk than her on-off boyfriend who rolls up for a shag and then quickly exits once it’s all over? You isn’t really interested in answering these questions. It presents the thesis and lets us make up our own minds.
The show also features up-and-coming trans actress Hari Nef (Assassination Nation) as a snobby character whose trans-ness has absolutely no bearing on anything she does. It’s a refreshingly progressive take that shouldn’t be discounted just because the show around it is slightly dodgy. Regardless, if you’re looking for a darker binge-worthy show, you could do a lot worse than You.