Welcome to what may be the most ambitious horror anthology series EVER. Partnered with Hulu, Blumhouse recently premiered Into the Dark, a series which will present one FEATURE LENGTH episode every month, each dealing with a different holiday. First up? The Body, a bloody, fun tribute to Halloween, just in time to get the October season going the right way…
…This first episode of Into the Dark is directed by Paul Davis (Patient Seven segment The Body) and written by Davis and Paul Fischer, who wrote that segment for Davis. Adapted from that same short, The Body deals with Wilkes (Tom Bateman), a hitman who has to transport a body on Halloween night. Complications arise when, in order to get a ride, Wilkes accepts an offer from a group of partiers enamored with his “costume” who want him to attend their party for a bit before they give him a ride. But when the group discovers that the body Wilkes is dragging around is not a prop, he embarks on a bloody rampage to keep them quiet.
As the first episode in a year-long holiday-themed series, I can’t imagine a better holiday to kick it off with than Halloween. The concept is ghoulishly clever, because after all, how many of us would really think twice about a guy dragging a body wrapped in plastic down the street on Halloween night? You might take a second glance, but I doubt you’re calling the cops. The Body is one of those ideas that makes so much sense, I’m shocked we haven’t seen much like it before. Davis and Fischer’s script also plays heavily into the ignorance of human beings on a night like Halloween, seeing as how the party-goers simply assume that Wilkes’ odd demeanor is just a guy committing to his “costume”. Yeah, there are a few kinks in the set-up which require the audience to ignore the obvious for a moment, such as what kind of people invite a strange man lugging around a body on Halloween night to their party simply so that they can bring someone to the bash with a cool costume, but hey, this is a horror movie after all, so screw it, right?
And let me tell you, Bateman is excessively creepy and intimidating as Wilkes. He has a calm, calculated demeanor about him which almost never breaks, even in the most intense moments, which at times can make Wilkes seem so robotic it’s scary. At the same time, Bateman is oddly charming as the psychotic killer, like an evil James Bond with a preference for knives over guns (seriously, Wilkes level of commitment to knives over guns is not what you would expect from a deranged hitman, but it’s perfect for a slasher). What really works for Wilkes is his level of intelligence. He’s a man who may think differently than you and I, but has a strong, philosophical belief system that, in a weird way, actually makes sense at times. Not enough to make me quit writing about film and go find a job on the dark web, but enough to go, yeah, okay, I guess I see your point. In essence, Wilkes is an intriguing villain that is a pleasure to observe.
One character who does buy into Wilke’s philosophies a bit more than the average person though is Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse). Rittenhouse is utterly captivating as Maggie, an endearing though frustrated woman of equal intelligence to Wilkes who may or may not be suffering from a sudden case of Stockholm Syndrome and forms an unexpected Bonnie and Clyde type romance with Wilkes. As for the other characters enduring this horrific Halloween night, each is fun to watch, especially Ray Santiago in his first appearance since Pablo from Ash vs Evil Dead. As someone who adored Santiago as Pablo, it’s great to see him killing it in a new role, and gives me hope that we’ll see plenty more of him in horror projects to come.
For all the fun which the cast brings to The Body though, most of them are painfully stupid. I’m talking next level dumb, such as not calling the cops despite all of them having their phones, and finding the best ways to separate and isolate themselves whenever possible. What’s worse, is the trend of treating the terrifying situation like a joke is prevalent all throughout The Body. It’s one that has consistently reared its ugly face in horror ever since the great Wes Craven’s Scream, and one that I’m sick to death of. Modern horror has become way too jokey at times. An audience can’t buy into the horror of the concept if the characters are constantly making light of it. This isn’t to say that the cast doesn’t feel realistic, for the most part they do, but when you have moments like Alan (David Hull) commenting on how he can’t believe the others haven’t seen Breaking Bad while trying to figure out what to do with a body, the audience expectation at best is a soft heh, and at worst, an annoyed eye roll. Guess which category I fell into? Call me bitter all you want, I prefer characters to seem scared when they should be.
For two-thirds of The Body, Davis and Fischer present much more of a comedy with some horror elements than a horror film with some comedy. Through an abundance of one liners, cops referring to Dorothy (Aurora Perrineau) as a hysterical woman even though she’s the calmest one, a trio of bumbling kids who have no idea what they’re doing in trying to survive the night, and a love-struck Maggie trying to impress Wilkes any way she can, the comedy is played up far more than expected for the premiere episode of a horror anthology series. But to be fair, most of the comedy is effective, and Maggie’s affection for Wilkes is genuine and different from what we’re used to, all of which makes for an entertaining thrill ride. Just don’t go into The Body expecting any amount of real horror.
That is, until the finale. Once The Body hits the third act, Davis ramps up the horror and delivers with a bloody blow again, and again, and again. Forget the excellent locations, which I won’t spoil here, The Body hits hard entering the finale with a sudden turn into the horror film we all expect when hitting play. Between shocking surprises and gruesome deaths with some bloody-good effects, there’s enough bloodshed to satisfy any horror fan expecting the slasher which The Body suddenly becomes. I thought Bateman was intimidating before, but by finale, he’s like an angry grim reaper out for gory vengeance, and there’s plenty to go around.
The Body may not be the frightening, balls to the wall horror film you’d expect as the first entry in this new series, but holy Samhain, it is entertaining. The film isn’t always firing on all cylinders, but when it does, it’s a scream, and works as a fun segway into the Halloween season. If this is the quality of things to come for Into the Dark, count me in as someone who will be looking forward to sinking my teeth into this monthly treat. Next up: Flesh and Blood, releasing November 2nd.
You can catch Into the Dark: The Body now on Hulu.
By Matt Konopka