For the up and coming filmmaker, Lisa Nova, played by Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel and Prime Video’s Undone), her short film Lucy’s Eye means everything to her. But her quest to be the biggest director in Los Angeles is hijacked by a sleazy and predatory director Lou Bourke (Eric Lange) who steals it to make his next big hit. In an act of revenge, she meets with Boro (Catherine Keener) and unleashes a rage that costs her more than what she bargained for. “Set his life on fire”, Lisa says with anger and convulses in pain as she pukes slimy kittens. This is not all that happens in Brand New Cherry Flavor, of course, there’s a zombie that collects the kittens whenever Lisa pukes them, a witch drinking blood, people getting set on fire, a mysterious creature lurking behind Lisa and a faceless woman that haunts her dreams.
Netflix’s new limited series, Brand New Cherry Flavor gets stranger and wilder in every episode. Apart from the strangeness, the show explores the treatment that female directors in Hollywood receive from hot-shot white male directors. The first episode works to show the life of Hollywood life, going to parties and drinking cocktails, meeting with people to finance your movie, all of which excites Lisa to the fullest. The limited series attempts to make us convulse and gross us out with materials such as worms in cocaine, eyeballs, murder, poisonous toads, black magic, but these elements are gruesomely mixed within a tale narrating Hollywood’s treatment of women, is a lot to take in. It puts a spin on the phrase “doing anything for your art”, including making deals with witches to get back at shady directors at any cost, even puking kittens.
There’s so much to say about Brand New Cherry Flavor especially, Lisa’s relationship with her mother. Lisa’s only remaining memory of her mother is a picture of her facing the horizon, her face hidden. Aside from the gore and horror, the show’s maternal themes try to stay afloat throughout the show. Lisa has never had a maternal figure in her life until she meets Boro. This focus on the subconscious maternal pairing between Lisa and Boro is meant to show that the young director desperately needs support from the witch. Boro’s grasp on Lisa and Lisa’s intuition to run towards Boro whenever there’s an issue strikingly captures the complex themes of maternal figures. In a scene where after Lou’s henchman is sent out to kill Lisa in her weird apartment filled with vines, her leg is broken and her face is beaten up. She manages to crawl towards one of Boro’s zombies and demands it to take her to the witch. At Boro’s house, she puts her in a pool of white water where she heals her wounds and brings her back to full health. Enraged and infuriated with what happened, Lisa continues to work together with Boro and make Lou’s life even more miserable.
While these themes are the interesting elements of the story, even the dreamy, neon-lit city of Los Angeles could not help with the messy storyline. The mysteries and the horrors of revenge thrills within each episode but there seems to be no end to a perfect resolution. The ending does not provide the kind of hope and reconciliation that we had hoped for at the end, considering what she wanted to get her film back from Lou’s hands. Brand New Cherry Flavor runs away from the main storyline during the midpoint and the subplots take most of the chunk of the show. The show does not give the time and space to explore Lisa as a character or even her humanity. Her entire presence on the show is Boro’s curse and trying to get as far away from her as possible.
The taste of revenge takes Lisa into unexpected places: the occult world of Los Angeles. Despite horror elements such as throwing up kittens and eating an omelette mixed with your former lover’s ear, it leaves a hollow impact. There is nothing likeable about Lisa, except for the fact that she desires to get revenge on Lou.
Regardless of these flaws, Salazar puts on her best performance to portray the complicated and complex life of Lisa Nova, as she tackles the trippy and bizarre dealings with a witch. Her wide-eyed, raspy voice is expressive enough to portray Lisa’s unlikeable and often confusing arc. Salazar portrays Lisa’s character with such ease and knows that people should not mess with her.
Perhaps the point of Lisa’s revenge is that it creates a massive vortex of chaos that is out of her control. Everyone and everything that she knows falls apart in front of her, and maybe that is the lesson that Boro is trying to teach her. The cost of bargaining with a witch can result in disastrous and even regrettable situations. In the case of Brand New Cherry Flavor, this revenge is undercooked and widely, disproportionate. The show takes the audience in for the ride, with its use of gore, horror and zombies; nevertheless, the uncanny and messy storyline makes it unworthy to watch it for a second view.
Edited by: Raayaa Imthiyaz