“Brand New Cherry Flavor,” from Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion, is Netflix's latest horror series.
One of the most memorable and talked-about moments is the disturbing sex scene in episode four.
When director Matt Sobel first saw the script for the fourth episode of Netflix's “Brand New Cherry Flavor,” he had one thought: How are we going to pull this off?
“Brand New Cherry Flavor” is a Lynchian- and Cronenbergian-tinged odyssey set in early-'90s Los Angeles that tells a distinctly original allegory about power and revenge.
Episode four, called “Tadpole Smoothie,” contains perhaps the most shocking scene in a series full of jaw-dropping – and, frankly, pretty gross – moments. It's a sex scene, of sorts, between the lead character, Lisa Nova, played by an intense Rosa Salazar, and her love interest, Roy Hardaway (Jeff Ward).
But unlike your ordinary sex scene, this one involves a very unordinary orifice: a vaginalike opening that the mysterious Boro (Catherine Keener), Lisa's ally in vengeance turned adversary, magically made appear on the side of Lisa's torso.
“I had no idea how we were going to do it when I first read it,” Sobel recently told Insider. “I came to them and said, 'Just so you know, I don't know how technically this would be done.'”
By “them,” Sobel means Nick Antosca and Lenore Zion, the cocreators and coshowrunners of the ambitious Netflix horror show, adapted from the 1996 cult novel of the same name by Todd Grimson. As it turned out, Antosca had a pretty clear picture in mind of what he wanted Lisa's new orifice to look like.
“He actually sent a photo to everybody of a cauliflower ear,” Sobel said. “And we were all like, 'Oh, God, that's going to be even more disgusting than we had thought.'”
How they pulled off that 'Brand New Cherry Flavor' sex scene
While Antosca had ideas in mind for what the scene would look like, Sobel was very hands-on in coming up with the visuals from the start.
The director told Insider that he sketched some storyboards depicting what he thought the sequence should look like, which he showed the visual-effects supervisor and the makeup-effects supervisor in the team's first meeting.
It ended up being a relative breeze to film because everything had been carefully blocked and choreographed ahead of time. Before filming, Sobel had even personally acted out the kitten-birth scene, immediately before the sex scene, by himself in his hotel bathroom to get all the movements down, before going over and demonstrating the movements to Salazar.
“We had a camera-blocking rehearsal, and it was short-listed and storyboarded in a way that was quite a bit more detailed than the other scenes,” Sobel said. “It actually ended up being really easy, I thought. We knew exactly what we needed and what we didn't need.”
After Sobel's sketching, careful planning, and collaboration with the VFX and makeup-effects teams, the disturbing yet mesmerizing scene ultimately wound up being done mostly with makeup and prosthetics. The crew used the magic of practical effects – a type of visual effect created tangibly on set, rather than with computer graphics – for varying shots, going through several prototypes to get the look just how Antosca and Zion had in mind.
The first prosthetic was a “surface application” applied to Salazar's actual torso, mostly used for the scene in the bathroom where Lisa first discovers the orifice and explores it with her fingers.
“Then there was a larger application that was also applied to her body, but it was an entire torso piece with a pocket that wrapped around her back,” the director said.
The third piece was an entirely separate replica of Salazar's torso, not attached to her body.
“That was a cast of her body that [Roy] could actually put his arm all the way inside and wiggle it around,” Sobel added. “And that was the piece that we used to push the baby kitten through and also have Roy's arm go in up to the elbow.” (The director said he was “pretty adamant” about having Roy's entire arm, not just his hand, go inside Lisa.)
All of those different applications were blended together with “some VFX touch-ups,” according to Antosca.
“What we like to do is do as much practical [effects] as possible. And then do some minor VFX touch-ups to move [Roy's] arm around a little or smooth things out,” he said. “But it's basically designed to allow the actors to do their thing and focus on them despite the fascinating, obscene effect that's on screen with them.”
The sex scene is shocking and disturbing, but it's also a big emotional moment for the characters
The scene is remarkably intimate and sensual, despite the disturbing visual – the motion of Roy's arm disappearing into Lisa's body, for instance, is purposely meant to resemble “a kind of embrace,” Sobel said.
And like most recent sex scenes in films and on TV, there was an intimacy coordinator on set who helped to “guide not just physical movements, but the emotional elements of the scene,” as Zion explained it, and to make sure the actors felt comfortable.
“It's important to choreograph and carefully approach the scene because it is an emotional scene. It's not a meaningless scene between those two characters,” she added.
The sex scene is a climatic moment, particularly in how it represents Lisa reclaiming control over her own body by using the new orifice (created by Boro as a punishment after Lisa demands not to be made to puke any more kittens) in a way Boro didn't expect: for her own sexual pleasure. She also asserts her power over Roy in the scene.
“The idea that we came up with was that he was going to try to lean forward and kiss her, and she's going to pull away,” Sobel told Insider. “And then basically, with her action of guiding his hand to her side, she's saying 'not like this, like this,' and that's how the sex scene starts.”
And then Salazar took that idea “and ran with it.”
“The scene ends with Roy trying to kiss her again when they're on the bed,” he continued. “And then she turns his face toward the camera, like don't kiss me with your mouth. And then she bites his cheek, and that was her improv.”
“I remember I was sitting with Nick and the intimacy coordinator at the monitor when she did that. And all of us look at each other, like wow, that was fucking great. And that's the take that's in the show,” he added.
The creators said they had no pushback from Netflix when it came to their most ambitious, disturbing sequences
Surprisingly, the execs at Netflix had no qualms about going all-in on “Brand New Cherry Flavor.”
The studio gave Antosca and Zion the go-ahead to let their wildest and most ambitious ideas fly, resulting in what critics described as a “delightfully deranged trip” though one that's “not for all tastes.”
“They were very supportive,” Antosca told Insider. “We say to ourselves sometimes, 'Wow. I can't believe this got greenlit. I can't believe this got made.' And not just the scene but the whole show because it's so unusual. But Netflix was incredibly supportive and on board from the very first pitch.”
“They really let us take the big swings we wanted to take,” Zion added.
What helped was that the two creators, who'd previously worked together on Syfy's horror anthology series “Channel Zero,” have honed the ability to conceptualize a story in what Antosca describes as a “striking and memorable and visually surprising” way, but “on basically an independent budget.”
“It's an interesting skill to develop to be able to ballpark what you will and won't be able to do when you're writing,” Zion told Insider. “What things we'll be able to pull off practically and what things are just definitely going to wind up out of reach.”
“That's a key to getting interesting stuff made, we've found, which is to keep it on a pretty modest budget,” Antosca said. “And then they'll let you take chances.”
All eight episodes of “Brand New Cherry Flavor” are currently streaming on Netflix.
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