Into the Dark just keeps putting out one great entry after another. So far, the partnership between Blumhouse and Hulu has wowed horror fans one month after the other, despite starting a little slow with its premiere episodes. Now, they’ve found a perfect way to ruin Valentine’s Day and that first date you had planned with Into the Dark: Down…
…The fifth episode in the popular Into the Dark anthology series, which releases a new feature every month based around a holiday, Down is directed by Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism) and written by Kent Kubena. The story follows Jennifer (Natalie Martinez) and Guy (Matt Lauria), two co-workers who are suddenly thrust into getting to know each other when they become trapped in an elevator, on Valentine’s Day of all days. But as their relationship builds, what starts out as perfect chemistry takes a turn for the worst after the pair begins to learn more about each other.
I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to say that, for a lot of us, this is one of our worst nightmares. I know it’s one of mine. Being trapped in an elevator is bad enough. But then to be trapped with a complete stranger, one who you slowly begin to realize is obsessed with you? No thank you. Watching Down is like reliving every worst date you’ve ever been on, or that moment when someone tells you they love you, and the best you can say is, “I like you too”, while those of us with less morals just run away screaming. Except in this case, you can’t run. What Down manages to do is take that uncomfortable feeling, and envelop it with the most claustrophobic setting possible. Down is a literal metaphor for feeling trapped by someone else’s obsession with you, without any easy way out. This latest episode of Into the Dark speaks to the desperation that comes with wanting to be loved, and how far some of us are willing to go to get that.
What’s brilliant about Kubena’s script is, like most relationships, the bond between Jennifer and Guy actually starts off strong. This is a “meet cute” in the direst of circumstances. At first, Jennifer is frustrated and upset, but Guy acts as this calming presence for her, easing her fears and becoming the perfect “buddy” to be trapped forty feet underground with. Both Martinez and Lauria deliver wonderfully charming performances. The chemistry between these two is as magical as a Disney princess romance, and you’ll want it all to be happy endings and sunshine for them. Time and time again, both characters made me laugh, smile, and just outright enjoy myself. Whatever your sexual orientation, you will find qualities in Jennifer or Guy that you could fall in love with, which speaks to the endearing portrayals from Martinez and Lauria. Unfortunately, like most relationships again, there is a honeymoon phase, and then a whole bunch of horrible, hair-ripping madness after.
That’s because, as the trailer suggests, [SPOILER], Guy is the epitome of what you’d call a “fuck boy”. He is a man who is charming, nice, and encourages women to take their guard down because he acts respectful of their needs, body, and privacy. But deep down, Guy doesn’t give a shit about any of that, and instead sees Jennifer as nothing but “his”. She is an object for him, without her own feelings. Whatever she wants doesn’t matter. For Guy, it’s about what Guy wants, turning what is already a horrible scenario into something truly nightmarish for Jennifer. And this is what’s great about Down. Stamm and Kubena combine so well to present Guy as this perfectly charming monster, that from beginning to end, we are rooting and cheering for Jennifer to take this bastard down. She is the embodiment of every woman who has ever been trapped and abused by a man, making it so damn fun to watch her take her hair down and kick some ass. You’ll love to cheer for Jennifer, and you’ll love to hate Guy. [END SPOILER]
With Down, Stamm and Kubena are presenting to us the full span of a relationship, molded and smashed down into a tiny box. Down is a tense, claustrophobic glass case of emotion. The production designers do a great job of presenting a set painted with drab coloring like any elevator, yet they find ways to make the setting itself interesting, such as the protrusions layering the walls, neon lighting, and a video loop showing happy couples on tropical islands. In a way, it represents everything we feel during the span of a relationship. The excitement of the neon lights. The eventual dullness of the flat coloring. The dreams and memories of happiness in the video. It’s all there. Imagine meeting someone, getting down with them, and breaking up, all in the same space and with nowhere to go. Needless to say, Down may be the most anti-Valentine’s Day horror film ever made, next to My Bloody Valentine, which is saying something.
Even though I’ve spent a lot of time talking about love and relationships and the uncomfortable nature of the film, it’s worth mentioning that like every other Into the Dark entry so far, Stamm delivers the horror with Down. This isn’t a film that is going to “scare” a lot of people, outside of the tension making us shift in our seats, but what it does do is allow us to scream with applause at some of the more outrageous kills and high-octane moments that make the second half of the film a hell of a thrill ride straight to hell. There isn’t a lot of blood in Down, but Stamm isn’t afraid to let his gore flag fly when appropriate, giving us one kill that may be one of the best in the Into the Dark series so far. Horror fans will crave more of the good stuff, but in the few moments that blood is shed, Stamm paints all four walls red, and that’s all we can ask for.
Like an elevator that hasn’t been serviced in years by the building manager, what Down lacks is a fresh new voice behind the story. That isn’t to say that Stamm is not a good director, or that Kubena is a bad writer. The opposite actually. Both are excellent. What I’m saying is that Down is the type of story that would’ve benefited much more from a female perspective, either as the writer, director, or both. I give Kubena and Stamm credit, they’re telling a story which I feel is meant to be seen through the female lens, and they do it well. But there are certain aspects of Down that just don’t feel accurate, such as Jennifer immediately flipping out at Guy once she learns his secret, since every woman ever has had to deal with the threat of some asshole going psycho on them, and Jennifer would know better to keep her emotions at bay until she wasn’t dropped in a box with this maniac. It’s little things like this that leave the viewer wondering how different the film might look if told through a female perspective. Down so heavily deals with the darker themes that women experience daily when it comes to male obsession, it only makes sense to have had a woman behind the film. We’ve seen what happens when women take hold of the stories that have inaccurately portrayed them, such as the rape revenge sub-genre and Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. I can’t help but think Down was this close to having a similar impact.
Either way, Stamm and Kubena deliver a tense, immensely satisfying episode of Into the Dark with Down. It may not be the best of the series, but it is easily the most cathartic. At the very least, I know that come Valentine’s Day, it’s best not to join the forty-feet underground club with a complete stranger.
Into the Dark: Down is now available to stream on Hulu.
By Matt Konopka