Note: Sadly, “New Year’s Day” is the episode that is missing from Roku’s streaming service. Technically this episode is only available in the boxed set.
In 2008, NBC aired the continuation of the Masters of Horror series in Fear Itself. This anthology horror series is a made-for-Network-TV-spin-off of the Showtime series where famous and emerging horror directors created original one hour horror films with seemingly no restrictions. Airing on a major Network comes with major restrictions, resulting in a very different experience on Fear Itself.
In New Year’s Day, a woman wakes up with a terrible hangover and the knowledge that the world is ending. The zombie apocalypse began during a night she can’t remember. She didn’t even want to go out partying. She was convinced to go out to help her get over the recent death of her brother and nothing went right. Now she’s trying to stay alive and find out what, exactly, happened to her the night before.
Darren Lynn Bousman was the big new director in 2008. He took over the reigns of the Saw series after his original horror screenplay was adapted into the Saw universe for Saw II. The series grew in leaps and bounds during his three entries, opening the door for passion projects like Repo! The Genetic Opera and The Devil’s Carnival. Bousman’s work is brutal and absurd in equal measure, pushing his actors to grotesque caricatures of the worst aspects of society. I’m a huge fan of his work, though I know plenty of people who are turned off by the blatant theatricality of everything he directs.
With all of that said, I don’t think New Year’s Day works in this format. I think there’s a strong idea here held back by runtime and the limitations of Network TV. This is a zombie story that can barely show gore because of the intended platform. It’s also a slow burn psychological horror story that doesn’t have enough time to ratchet up suspense over the missing memories. There are quite a number of excellent zombie films films that play with this mix of genres. What connects these titles is a runtime typically double what fits into an hour of Network TV. 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, and Pontypool wouldn’t have worked in 45 minutes either.
All the hallmarks of a Darren Lynn Bousman film are present and work in the moment. The characters in the film go from real to unnatural as the story progresses. The transformation to jealousy and hatred is barely distinguishable from the early signs of turning into a zombie, making everyone suspicious. There is no trust in a story about lost memories or quiet zombie transformations, and New Year’s Day plays with both.
One thing I bring up over and over when writing about horror is the question of ambition. I would rather watch a messy film that tries to do something interesting than a boring film that plays everything safe. At least a messy film has something different to engage with. New Year’s Day can definitely start a conversation.
content warning: gore, violence against women, alcohol abuse, grieving
Up next: Fear Itself S1E07: “Community” from director Mary Harron.