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Hulu’s Into the Dark is another horror anthology show. This one is less American Horror Story and more Black Mirror. Each episode is its own self-contained thing. Into the Dark is the kind of show that is a low investment, with the potential for great rewards. Into the Dark comes to Hulu for horror hit-maker Jason Blum, with a simple enough premise. Each episode revolves around a holiday, and the plan is to release one per month for a year. They play more like movies, judging from the pacing and 90-minute runtimes of the two episodes Hulu made available for review.
“The Body” is a Halloween-set story about a hitman and the body he needs to dispose of. The hitman, Wilkes (Tom Bateman), is an ice-cold killer with a wicked cynical streak. Being that it’s Halloween, no one bats an eye at the sharply dressed man lugging a wrapped-up body. Convenient for Wilkes since no one thinks to call the cops. The downside is that everyone on the street wants to stop and talk to Wilkes about his costume. Wilkes, despite being a tough sonofabitch ends up at a party. Eventually, a few partygoers figure out Wilke’s deal and leave with the body. Wilkes spends the rest of the night hunting and killing the people who stole his handiwork.
“The Body” aims for a darkly funny tone. Unfortunately, the jokes and pop-culture references are groan-inducing. The humor isn’t going to endear the characters to anyone. The actors do what they can, but only a few make it work. The best performance here comes from Rebecca Rittenhouse as Maggie, a computer whiz with an inner dark side ready to come out. Maggie is the most compelling character, so Rittenhouse can give an actual performance, whereas most of the other performers are stuck doing shtick. The episode hits its stride in its last act when it becomes a more traditional horror story. It never gets truly scary, but Davis conjures up a solid sequence set in a funeral home.
The biggest problem with “The Body” is that it feels like a riff. Part of that is due to the simple concept, and a larger part is due to the writing. At 80 minutes, you can feel the material stretching out beyond its breaking point. It goes on just long enough to start feeling repetitive, especially in the first act. In the end, we’re stuck with an episode that either needs 20 minutes lopped off, or the story needs more meat. Your best bet is to watch “The Body” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and skip over this one.
Whatever you do, don’t skip “Flesh & Blood.” It’s everything “The Body” isn’t: tight, tense, and a lot of fun. This Thanksgiving story is about a family dealing with a loss. Henry (played by Dermot Mulroney) is a widower struggling to raise his teenage daughter. Kimberly (Diana Silvers), in addition to struggling with her mother’s murder, is severely agoraphobic. Despite the dramatic trappings, this story doesn’t go heavy on the weighty stuff. It’s kind of a shame, because it could’ve led somewhere interesting, but that isn’t the goal here. “Flesh & Blood” is an effective chamber piece and a terrific genre exercise. Horror vet Patrick Lussier, who directed Drive Angry and edited the first three Screams, directs. Lussier’s slick pacing maximizes Louis Ackerman’s script.
Silvers and Mulroney carry “Flesh & Blood,” but Silvers is the real standout. She’s also the newcomer, but she makes a good impression. Kimberly is a standard horror character, but her agoraphobia gives Silvers something to work with. You feel every bit of Kimberly’s anxiety when she tries to go outside. Whether it’s just her hand reaching out the door, or stepping off the porch, Silvers is good enough to make the audience briefly ill. Ackerman’s script smartly plays the terrors of the outside world against the ones in the house, and gives the story an interesting dichotomy. Mulroney weaponizes the audience’s familiarity with him for a fun, against-type performance. He plays Henry as a warm, but not-all-the-way-there father to lay the trap. As the film strips away the layers of the Mulroney persona, we’re left with a vein-popping psychopath.
During a night of channel surfing, Kimberly comes across a report about a missing girl. She catches a strange connection between her and the missing girl. After some amateur sleuthing, she learns a secret about her father. Kimberly and Henry get into a cat and mouse game, and it’s enjoyable to see them one-upping each other. The story uses every nook and cranny of the house. It doesn’t literally use the kitchen sink, but everything else is fair game. Lussier manages to create a claustrophobic setting, while also making the outdoors feel just as confined. “Flesh & Blood” is an example of how much fun a genre exercise can be when it hits every note.
“Flesh & Blood” reminded me of Don’t Breathe and 10 Cloverfield Lane, two other great chamber piece movies. “Flesh & Blood” doesn’t quite on par with those films, but it more than holds its own. But as a follow-up to the lackluster “The Body,” it convinced me to stick with the series. Like I said, Into the Dark doesn’t demand much of your time, especially if you aren’t into an episode. If any other episodes match or surpass “Flesh & Blood,” then we’re in store for a treat. I’m looking forward to whatever Blumhouse brings viewers for Christmas.
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.