Trigger warning: This review discusses animal torture and gore, as seen in the first episode of ‘Brand New Cherry Flavor.’
The newly-released Netflix horror series Brand New Cherry Flavor begins oddly quiet. There’s not much background music, and there’s nothing really exciting going on. We’re introduced to our protagonist, Lisa Nova (Rosa Salazar,) as she tells a friend that she has plans to meet with the famous producer, Lou Burke (Eric Lange), about her short film.
From the very start Lisa doesn’t behave in the way one might expect. Rather than excitement over the prospect of directing her first feature film, Salazar’s character is reserved. There’s no smile, no eagerness, nothing. Initially, we don’t get the sense that Lisa is all that excited to see Lou Burke, the man who could make her dream of turning her short film into a feature-length movie come true.
Instead, Lisa’s features remain impassive, keeping her possible enthusiasm locked up inside of her. As a viewer, it’s hard to tell what Lisa’s thinking and what directing a movie really means to her.
When Lisa eventually meets up with Burke, who insists she just call him ‘Lou’ as if they were old buddies, we learn the real reason she wants to make a movie is so the mother who abandoned her at birth will finally notice her existence. The first episode should have done a better job expanding on Lisa’s backstory. Surely Lisa has other motives for wanting to write and direct her own movie? Rather, the series gives us a sob story about her abandonment, hoping this would compel the viewer to find sympathy for her and root for her success. The series’ tries to make Lisa likable from her tragic backstory alone, but the attempt falls flat.
Episode one should have used a flashback to its advantage to explore what inspired Lisa to first get into directing. But with Lisa’s whole dream based on the idea of her mom maybe noticing her work seems a little half-baked. There has to be more of a reason why creating a movie is so important to her. And if there isn’t another reason, maybe another part of Lisa’s characterization should have been explored from the start to make her more well-liked.
Episode one of Brand New Cherry Flavor drags. The conversation between Lisa and Lou goes on forever. We immediately get the sense that Lou isn’t a good guy with no redeeming qualities. He’s inappropriate, abusive, and a liar. Lisa’s confused about their whole one-on-one meeting since she assumed they would talk about her movie. However, the show intentionally takes a long time to get there.
The only redeeming part about Brand New Cherry Flavor was that the suspense starts at the tail-end of episode one. Horror fans may get into this, but to audience members who typically avoid horror stories, the same thing cannot be said.
Lisa finds out Lou lied to her when he said she could direct her own movie. Instead, he selected someone else to direct Lisa’s movie—all without telling her. Lisa storms into Lou’s house, fire running through her veins. Tears stream down Lisa’s cheeks, the suspense high. Salazar acts well here, exhibiting her character’s resentment. But after this scene, well, things get more… eerie.
There’s the strange older cat-lady, Boro (Catherine Keener,) who introduces herself to Lisa halfway through episode one. Right away, Boro gives off evil witch vibes. She tells Lisa that, if asked, she could hurt someone for her. Boro then writes a location on Lisa’s forearm with permanent ink, telling her that, if she comes, to “bring the cat.” Oddly enough, Boro’s talking about her own cat, which she holds in her arms and leaves the place with.
Lisa had no intention to talk to this lady ever again, but after Lou’s hurtful lie, she decides to give Boro a visit. The eeriness really starts here—and the gore.
In one particularly revolting scene, we watch as cats gnaw on the corpse of another giant cat. We also see Boro put some kind of spell on Lisa and make her vomit up a newborn kitten. The gore refuses to relent so only the strongest of stomachs will be able to handle the grizzly imagery the series subjects viewers to.
If you enjoy boundary pushing horror, this series based in the ‘90s might excite you. Brand New Cherry Flavor isn’t the type of show I would normally watch, and it was uncomfortable getting past episode one because of the sickening animal torture, but that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy this dark, magical tale.
All episodes of Brand New Cherry Flavor season one are now available on Netflix.