Brand New Cherry Flavor Review: A mind-bending delight for horror fans
The newest show from Channel Zero alums, writer Lenore Zion and showrunner Nick Antosca, is an adaptation of Todd Grimson’s 1996 novel Brand New Cherry Flavor that delivers mind-bending horrors and a surreal story of artistry.
The series follows aspiring filmmaker Lisa (Rosa Salazar) as she heads to Hollywood in the 90s with the hopes of getting washed-up film producer Lou Burke (Eric Lange) to produce her feature directorial debut based on a short film she made. The tone and atmosphere of the 90s is established instantly from the visuals and vibes of Brand New Cherry Flavor. There’s this angst felt throughout most interactions that influence the competitive self-minded atmosphere of Hollywood and Lisa’s film, Lucy’s Eye, evokes the paranoia felt in Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. Every inch of Brand New Cherry Flavor has a dark velvety look to it that works well in letting the darker elements somehow feel like a natural part of this environment and fits with the sleaziness that Lisa finds in Lou and the dark mysticism of a local witch.
Although Lou’s smooth-talking comforts Lisa into believing that he’s on her side, his sexual advances make her instantly cut ties, which in turn, comes at the cost of her film. Frustrated and gutted about losing something so meaningful to her, Lisa enlists the help of a tattoo artist with dangerous mystical abilities named Boro (Catherine Keener) to get revenge on Lou and reclaim her film. However, Boro’s help has unforeseen consequences that send Lisa through a hellish spiral and forces her to confront her own secrets.
Brand New Cherry Flavor takes viewers down a trippy, hypnotic, and disturbing rabbit hole full of horrifying visuals and traumatic consequences. Although the curse that Boro and Lisa put on Lou seems lackluster and not all that damaging at first, it literally becomes the stuff of nightmares and it’s not too long until the Channel Zero DNA comes through some of the skin-crawling gore and visuals. The infection that develops on Lou’s eye leads to a scene that’s definitely not for the squeamish and the way he’s driven to the point of insanity only hoping to be put out of his misery is truly ice-cold revenge at its finest and oddly satisfying because of how scummy he is. Even before anything happens with Lisa, you’re instantly convinced that Boro’s curse is the real deal and everything it does with Lou is downright evil with how it also affects his son Jonathan (Daniel Doheny).
Lisa’s journey has its own horrors as her deal with Boro comes with a devastating price of its own that includes underhanded intentions. Lisa being forced to puke up newborn kittens for Boro and deal with a small opening that develops on her side leading to one of the creepiest sex scenes in episode four is enough to make anyone’s stomach start turning. It’s Cronenberg type body horror that constantly stretches what’s conceivable and adds to Lisa falling further down the rabbit hole. However, there’s a greater purpose behind it all that ties into Boro’s true intentions for Lisa as well as Lisa’s dangerous ambitions.
All the strange occurrences that happen to Lisa are clearly building towards a secretive plan that Boro has for her, and every new thing that appears adds another layer to the mystery. From the vines that sprout in Lisa’s apartment as well as the trapdoor that suddenly appears in her bedroom to the disturbing visions Lisa has of an indiscernible creature reaching out to her, Boro’s mysterious plan for Lisa starts to form and you’re left wondering what she’s exactly grooming her for. Throughout the series, the anticipation for what Boro has in store for Lisa constantly keeps you hooked and the way that Boro is easily able to keep her under her thumb is fascinating to watch.
Keener is truly perfect casting as she’s able to make Boro this entrancing force that always manages to maintain her power. Even when she’s clearly up to no good, you can’t help but love Keener’s performance and desperately want to see what she has up her sleeve. The “backstory” that’s given for her in the middle episodes can feel a little unnecessary at times and break the momentum. The whole idea of exploring Boro’s former life doesn’t really go anywhere and frankly, the explanation behind her magical force isn’t exactly the easiest to digest. However, Boro is made such a strong presence with Keener in the role and the way Lisa’s secrets intertwine with her divine purpose in Boro’s plan makes everything coming together very intriguing.
Although Lisa is positioned as a simple victim of Lou’s abuse early on, she gains a sense of strength that’s brought out excellently through Salazar’s performance. With Salazar already having great CGI/Animated lead performances under her belt from Alita: Battle Angel and Undone, it’s even better that she gets to add a top-notch live-action lead performance as well. She’s fully committed to all the weirdness in Brand New Cherry Flavor and she, along with the rest of the cast, make some of the clumsier dialogue work. Not every attempt at dark humor comes across well, but most do because the cast is so strong and there’s some solid misdirection that works in creating some fun jokes. It’s even nice how some odd references and mentions, like a poisonous spider bite, have great payoff.
Where Salazar is at her best though is when Lisa’s devotion to her art is dissected and takes dark turns. As she delves deeper into Boro’s mysticism, Lisa is forced to face the damage she’s caused in letting her artistic vision hurt those close to her, especially the star of Lucy’s Eye Mary (Siena Weber). Her story acts as a cautionary tale for letting artistic ambition go too far and watching Lisa explore these monstrous feelings that emerge is downright terrifying at times. Salazar evokes the perfect mix of desperate curiosity and psychological fear that fitting for the horrors that Lisa endures, and she’s really brought to the edge in the same way that Lou is. She quickly becomes a force to be reckoned with, but it comes at a cost that still devastates her and she never completely loses herself which is what makes her character so special. Lisa’s arc has a lot of personal touches that persist through all the destruction, and it all leads to a satisfying conclusion of her finding new meaning for herself.
Brand New Cherry Flavor is a delight for all horror fans with its mind-melting gory imagery that mixes greatly with its unnerving personal story about obsessive artistry that comes at a bloody price. Salazar and Keener are true triumphs with their performances and Brand New Cherry Flavor is easily one of the most surprising must-watches of the year.