March’s Into the Dark entry Treehouse bit off more than it could chew with its wobbly stab at social commentary, touching on sexual assault, toxic masculinity, accountability, and the potential for rehabilitation. The Valentine’s Day-themed Down tackled similarly thorny issues of consent and emotional manipulation in a subtler way with a better outcome. With its April Fool’s Day episode, I’m Just Fucking With You, Into the Dark once again wades into toxic waters—this time about the perils of online harassment—and apparently, the third time is the charm. Into the Dark: I’m Just Fucking with You, which premiered at SXSW ahead of its April 5 release on Hulu, is the sharpest of the series’ three most recent installments, and a top-two overall entry.
DIRECTOR: Adam Mason
A night at an empty motel turns into a nightmare for Larry. With the help of a new friend, Larry must confront his darker side.
Larry (Keir O’Donnell) is on his way to blow up his ex-girlfriend’s wedding day, figuratively speaking. Society may see Larry as a modern beta male, but Larry sees himself as an alpha. (Don’t they all?) On his way to the wedding, he stops for the night at a motel. He meets Chester (Hayes MacArthur), the bartender who is also handling check-ins for the night. Chester busts balls like it’s his job, with everything he says being either a setup or a punchline. Our introduction to Chester is him telling an “XYZ” joke and laughing too much at it. He punctuates all of his jokes, innocuous or malicious, with a laugh and an “I’m just fucking with you.”
MacArthur plays Chester with just enough leeway to make the character’s swings between the silly and the psychotic feel like a yin and yang. Chester and Larry are two sides of the same coin, and O’Donnell plays the inverse of MacArthur. As the story progresses, the two characters slowly move together into an overlapping Terrible Person Venn Diagram. Larry is outwardly nice, but in the privacy of his room he turns to the solace and safety of his online persona, ProgrammingFlaw. At one point he describes himself as “nice, meek, affable, but on the inside my heart is full of bitterness.” Can you feel the entitlement and insecurity oozing out of that description?
Part of what makes Into the Dark: I’m Just Fucking with You so entertaining is that Larry gives the audience no reason to root for him. He’s a troll who spends his time viciously harassing his ex and anyone who slights him on social media. He even roasts Chester anonymously on Yelp—this man is a monster, for crying out loud. We don’t particularly want Larry or Chester to win, but the script does a good job manipulating the audience’s allegiances throughout the film. A story like this would normally exploit viewers’ sympathy by saving the reveal of Larry’s terribleness for later. Instead, writers Gregg Zehentner and Scott Barkan allow the film’s themes to linger longer and stick in the audience’s mind.
Scott Everett White/Hulu
As the stakes raise and Larry and Chester take turns gaining the upper hand, an interesting dynamic reveals itself. The motel is mostly deserted, so Chester and Larry are left to their own devices. Their antagonistic relationship creates the façade of a comments section come to life. We have the troll and the person trolling the troll, a self-perpetuating cycle that can only lead to mutually assured destruction. One of the biggest problems with Treehouse is that it opted for a middle-of-the-road ending after tackling such heavy topics. That’s not an issue with I’m Just Fucking with You.
Director Adam Mason does a nice job keeping the energy high and navigating the tone. The film shifts seamlessly from comedy to suspense, and the laughs flow freely. I’m Just Fucking with You is a prime example of what every Into the Dark episode should be. Its premise is straightforward and executed well, and the performances are lively. Aside from MacArthur and O’Donnell, the other main player is Jessica McNamee, who plays Larry’s sister Rachel. She is the film’s sanest, most reasonable character, and she provides a necessary balance to Larry and Chester’s outrageous antics.
Into the Dark: I’m Just Fucking with You raises the bar for the show going forward. After a string of decent and mediocre outings, I recalibrated my expectations. I’m still waiting for one of these installments to totally blow me away. But I’m Just Fucking with You feels like a reward for returning every month. Let’s hope the rewards keep coming.
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