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Hulu’s holiday-themed horror anthology series Into the Dark keeps its winning streak going with its latest episode, Down. Set over the long Valentine’s Day/Presidents’ Day weekend, Into the Dark: Down is a nifty chamber piece about two people stuck in an elevator. The filmmakers and cast use the simple premise to flex their talent. Unlike the malfunctioning lift, Down keeps finding ways to make the most of what it has.
DIRECTOR: Daniel Stamm
After an elevator malfunction leaves Jen and Guy trapped, they must work together to get themselves out. They keep their calm for a while before things take a dark turn.
It’s the start of Valentine’s Day weekend, and Guy (Matt Lauria) and Jen (Natalie Martinez) end up in the same empty building, in the same empty elevator. Then their elevator stops four floors underground. There are few things as terrifying as being stuck somewhere with a complete stranger. Guy knows this, as he immediately starts joking and assuring Jen that he’s a nice guy. For the first half of Down, Guy and Jen maintain a charming, start-stop flirtation. Lauria and Martinez have chemistry to spare (they also appeared on MMA drama Kingdom), so when the two strangers have sex less than 12 hours after meeting, it’s believable, if also funny.
Needless to say, things turn south in a hurry and the elevator starts to feel even smaller. At this point, Down picks up a heretofore unseen edge. (Spoilers ahead.) After their hookup, Guy is immediately all-in with Jen. He latches on while she tries to brush it off as a cool story he can tell his friends. Jen tap-dances around Guy’s feelings, trying to let him down gently. It contrasts with their pre-sex dynamic of Guy managing Jen’s emotions, which says a lot without explicitly spelling anything out.
Then Guy unleashes his toxic masculinity. Not only is he incapable of handling rejection, he’s engineered their entire “relationship.” It’s an obvious reveal for the character, but Lauria plays it with enough pathetic earnestness that it almost works. As Guy explains his plan, he hits on the usual justifications: She, successful and pretty, wouldn’t give him, a security guard, the time of day. So Guy takes the choice from her.
We’ve seen this myopic logic offered up in plenty of movies and in real life, and no one ever buys it. Guy lays himself bare, in all his pathetic “why can’t I have what I want?” glory. As the story turns tense, Down keeps a sense of humor about itself, which keeps the film from becoming a cliché-riddled bore. It simultaneously embraces and condemns the tropes it employs.
Previous Into the Dark films have made good use of a single location, and Down repeats the feat with its most restrictive setting to date. Director Daniel Stamm and writer Kent Kubena make the limitations of the story (and, presumably, the budget) work to their advantage. With a brisk 82-minute runtime, Down is a fleet, economical film. Stamm, who made the entertaining found footage possession film The Last Exorcism, knows his way around low-budget horror. He finds an impressive number of angles to shoot from, and, most importantly, he lets his actors do the heavy lifting. Lauria and Martinez go for it, and it’s fun watching them work their way out of each new problem.
Horror films have almost always been ahead of the social curve. From Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to Get Out, the best horror movies can comment on society as incisively as any prestige picture. Into the Dark: Down is nowhere near the level of those films, but it still packs the social commentary. At one point a man ends up in a dumpster. It’s a concise, perfect summation of the film’s theme: Men are trash. Men don’t have to be trash, but if you wait long enough, eventually a frog is gonna croak. It’s not elegant or sophisticated, but it’s trying.
I’ve watched each Into the Dark installment and reviewed four of the five favorably. I’m an easy mark for horror movies, especially ones like this. These films aren’t particularly special; at their best, they function like well-oiled machines. Into the Dark: Down is no different. If any of these films were great, they would likely find their way to a theatrical release. But by confining them to an ongoing series, Hulu and Blumhouse are keeping their bets small. The series has established a baseline, and if the movies aren’t going to be great, at least they’ll be fun.
Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.