INTO THE DARK – DOWN
Starring: Natalie Martinez, Matt Lauria, Arnie Pantoja, Christina Leone
Director: Daniel Stamm
Writer: Kent Kubena
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
Into the Dark took on an interesting challenge unlike other anthologies on television. First, the anthology would be a horror one with Blumhouse Television backing the production. Blumhouse is known in the horror circles for producing low budget, yet successful horror movies (some turning into franchises) such as Insidious, The Purge, Happy Death Day, as well as many others.
Second and somewhat unique, the anthology would be based on various holidays, including Christmas, New Year’s Eve and of course, Halloween. Though we’ve seen shows revolve around these before, there’s an exciting opportunity to tackle some that are underrepresented in the horror genre, such as New Year’s Eve. Third and possibly the more interesting challenge was that it would air one episode a month, during which the chosen holiday occurred. Would the audience follow? Perhaps to ensure better buy-in, instead of normal television episode length, the entries have all come closer to that of a movie, clocking in at about an hour and a half.
For February’s entry, it’s not surprising to see Valentine’s Day as the holiday in question. Though there have been a few horror movies based on it (My Bloody Valentine, Picnic at Hanging Rock), it’s usually a holiday associated with love and romance. So how was this month’s entry going to differentiate itself? Surprisingly well. Down tackles intense love and obsession with a dark twist. It tells the story of two strangers, Guy (Matt Lauria) and Jennifer (Natalie Martinez), who end up stranded on an elevator during Valentine’s day weekend. What unfolds is an interesting ‘relationship’ as both victims deal with this seemingly random event.
The first part of the episode is craftily done. Guy enters the elevator and begins his journey down to the parking garage. A few floors lower, Jennifer enters. As they get closer to their destination, the elevator suddenly stops. They try to press the alarm key and use the intercom to call for help. However, there’s nobody manning the security desk, and they remain stuck. What ensues is an accelerated “getting to know” you period that’s somewhat far fetched. However, given the eventual outcome of the story, it makes sense to some extent. The chemistry between Matt Lauria and Natalie Martinez is excellent. They sell the relationship, regardless of its eye-rolling moments.
The second part of the episode is where the action starts and gains intensity. However, the story quickly begins to drag on, an issue that has plagued previous installments of the anthology as well. It’s disappointing that we’re at the fifth installment and the problem persists. However, the bigger fault of the episode lies in the two characters’ behaviors. Jennifer’s decision-making is questionable at times. She makes mistakes that really shouldn’t be made. Not only is she presented as a smart and successful businesswoman, but at times in the latter two-thirds of the episode, she actually does make a few, albeit rare, good decisions. But it’s inconsistent, and like the old V-8 commercials, you’ll find yourself slapping your forehead as you shake your head in disbelief.
Guy is no different. It’s clear that the possible consequences of his plans were not thought out too well. As it plays out, it becomes increasingly frustrating to watch the episode. The ensuing ineptitude shown from him, who’s apparently quite adept at planning, is disappointing and didn’t fit the character we came to meet in the first third. The sequence of events that had to happen for everything to work out showed a meticulous planning approach. However, as soon as something doesn’t happen the way he intended, he has no alternative options? It felt like a weak part of the script and unfortunately carries over to the end of the episode.
As though the director (or the writer or a combination of both) realized that the antagonist had lost complete control over the situation, the story became crazier with every passing minute. Unfortunately, an opportunity was missed. The initial premise of Down was absolutely believable and worse, truly terrifying. That there are people in today’s society who build unhealthy attachments to others and then act out on their impulses to do something about it, regardless of the ethics or even legality behind it, is the real horror in the episode. Guy’s actions and motivations are certainly not in the realm of the impossibility, and that is what makes it terrifying. Jennifer is completely unaware of how dangerous he could be until it’s too late. And Down does an outstanding job at bringing that terror on screen. It’s just unfortunate it can’t be sustained.
The performances by Matt Lauria and Natalie Martinez are excellent. It’s a good thing too as they are essentially the two main characters who have the lion’s share of screen time. The quick evolution of their relationship as they are stuck in the elevator is plausible and daftly developed. Until the reveal, I was sold hook, line, and sinker on the randomness of the breakdown. Also worth a mention is that finally, this episode was the first to fully integrate the holiday in question, as opposed to the previous entries having it incidentally present. It’s not a typical love story, but the elements of obsession, passion, and love are definitely there, even if in unexpected ways.
The setting, though simple enough, works. Most of the action takes place in the elevator. There’s a claustrophobic feeling that is conveyed quite well. In a interesting twist, the elevator is made to be on the one hand a love nest, while on the other, a cold, harsh prison. The juxtaposition of the two perspectives, in a stainless steel setting was impressively done. However, once the action left the elevator, it felt as though a different movie was taking place. It took away from the confined intensity we’d seen. Shortening the episode would have solved this issue.
Down is an excellent entry in the Into the Dark anthology. The first part is strong enough to overshadow any of the weaknesses exposed thereafter. There is a true terror in the way Guy plans this special Valentine’s weekend and almost pulls it off. There’s a certain realism there that blurs the line between fiction and reality, a line that is crossed far too easily. Unlike most of the other episodes, Down integrates Valentine’s day into the story quite well, supporting and justifying the actions that drive the plot. If you can suspend your disbelief and forgive the nutty direction the episode takes, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Into the Dark – Down is available for streaming on Hulu