into the dark down review

(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)

When outsiders generalize “horror,” most minds zip to Romero zombies or Craven icons. Slash ‘em ups or creature features. Base preconceptions hone on grotesqueries thanks to such a narrow-minded definition of the word “horror,” but February’s lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day gush sets a perfect stage for broadening how novices view genre content. As I’ve once argued here on /Film, love is the secret ingredient when it comes to horror. Into The Dark’s Down accepts the task of dipping Cupid’s arrow into venomous toxins, stripping away Hollywood meet-cute hallmarks for a sickening display of blind dating gone psychopathic.

Natalie Martinez and Matt Lauria play Jennifer and Guy respectively, two office employees burning after-hours oils on Valentine’s Day. They finish up simultaneously – on different floors – and ride the same elevator down to the highrise’s parking levels. All very uneventful until their descending steel box halts before reaching “P5.” No response from buttons, doors slammed tight, zero chance of outsiders hearing – they’re stuck. Friday night before a long weekend, no less.

So begins a lusty character divulsion between two “single” strangers – both charming, sexy, and precariously fueled by situational motivations – that speeds through relationship stages inside their secluded universe. Guy is quick to assert himself as an affable accountant with chiseled features, Jennifer a frustrated hopeful traveler who loosens once her flight (to an offscreen ex-lover) is officially missed. Their introductory banter chatters and charms as prerequisite niceties hiding something nastier, because this is Into The Dark after all. Something must be amiss, and Dick Maas already cornered the market on “possessed elevator shaft” designs in The Lift.

As Guy and Jennifer flirtatiously rocket through lovebird honeymoon phases after sweaty, passionate elevator sex in some impressively nimble positions to hide full nudity, writer Kent Kubena’s “secrets revealed” climax embraces foreshadowed oddness. Notes like each party pulling a wine corkscrew from their bags, zero response from security despite the elevator’s camera remaining on, Guy’s stress on conversations over escape – it’s all very P2. Like, VERY P2. Half “Worksploitation” survival thriller, half deranged romanticism with no exit.

After Guy’s bluff fades and cards turn face-up – after Martinez and Lauria play out their chambered fantasy – Down becomes the modernist commentary on relationship culture director Daniel Stamm pushes to importance. A frustrated dive into fairy tale fate misguided by another “nice boy” who abuses powers in the name of “true love.” Guy plays all the hits. “You would never have given me the time of day otherwise,” or “I’m doing this because I like you,” or “We just had sex, you love me!” A man who thinks he’s owed attention by Jennifer who feels justified – nay, empowered – to hold her hostage until she’ll reciprocate feelings. Manipulation, threats, and false coincidence from the eye of a beholder who thinks himself innocent because of society’s reassurance.

Stamm’s decision to widen the single elevator car setting allows Jennifer and Guy ample space to breathe, stew, or rage about. Elevators this spacious exist only in corporate daydreams. There’s room to brawl, isolate (as much as possible), and permit an actual battle of wits versus claustrophobic alternatives where Jennifer would feel even *more* helpless. Here she’s able to defend herself, twist Guy’s plot into momentary counters, and reclaim dignified justice. “Stop acting like I’d hurt you,” says the maniac sociopath to his disturbed victim. Punished for the crime of being pretty and “unattainable” by someone so scared or scarred by rejection they rationalize kidnapping as a solid first date. Jennifer fights back against disproportionate gender expectations for women everywhere, which does bring unexpected gore once Guy’s true beast unleashes freely.

Speaking of Jennifer’s vengeance, it’s Martinez who shines as a business-first hustler who’s wooed by Lauria but failed by echoed current events. After triggering fire alarm sprinklers – thinking help is only minutes away – Jennifer forces Guy to confess his intentions on camera, so it’s not another “guy’s story versus girl’s words” bamboozle. Martinez channels so much anger through Jennifer’s resentment and helplessness, finding herself in a male-driven scenario women continue to endure. Lauria’s breakdown flips a monster’s switch at the right time, but earlier conversing plays a little too chipper for my tastes. Martinez, on the other hand, is always in control of her character – no steely glance better than her final take.

Alas, I do think Down wants to say more than it actually does, and once again – a theme throughout Into The Dark so far – skimps on holiday-themed scares. Besides a bottle of wine and wrapped gifts, Valentine’s Day redness is greyed out by industrial-grade color schemes. Guy and Jennifer’s constricting tango takes some time to fall into step, playing crude confessional games before igniting the fires that rage inside Guy. Love and courtship have been demonized in better ways before, but for a brisk eightish minute character study in a four-walled trap? Down keeps moving with a devilish grin that reveals itself to be an equality lesson of our times (just with more elevator-related deaths).

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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About the Author

Matt is an NYC internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking about cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don't feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged).