Valentine’s Day is the annual celebration of love, romance, and infatuation. Leave it to Blumhouse to prove Cupid’s holiday is not all flowers and hearts with the latest episode of the Hulu anthology series Into The Dark. Director Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism) and debut writer Kent Kubena have formed a complimentary pair for Into The Dark’s February episode evoking all things heart-shaped, Down.
Like most romantic relationships, Down begins with a coincidental circumstance of entrapment. Two employees in a business building head for the exit at the end of the night, hoping to make the most of their long Valentine’s Day weekend. Friendly chatter quickly turns into relative terror as the elevator stalls – leaving Jenn and Guy with nothing but each other, a handy bottle of wine, some gifts, and chocolates for a few grueling days. Going through the motions of tight quarters including bouts of claustrophobia and the awkward humiliation of relieving bodily functions, Jenn and Guy begin opening up to one another in more ways than one. Obvious mutual attraction and suggested individual loneliness take a personal turn between the two as the small space around them begins to heat up.
However, when true identities and motives are revealed, chaos and violence erupts within the small world of lust and romance that they have created with one another. Jenn and Guy may be strangers when they step inside the elevator, but by the time their elevator car reaches ground level, they have experienced the ups and downs of any mature relationship – from exciting spark to deadly betrayal.
A wolf in rom-com clothing, it isn’t long before Down exposes its bloody insides for the dark matter at work beneath the surface. Down hits three main high points essential for any effective horror story… and a quality first date.
It did not take me long to recognize the instant connection between the two actors trapped inside the building’s elevator. Down sees the romantic reunion between Matt Lauria and Natalie Martinez. The two starred in the MMA centered series, Kingdom, which served them well as they return to the ring of love and conflict. The chemistry is as evident as the tension they build is palpable. Their budding relationship drives the plot steadily for the most part, creating relatable interactions thanks to a well written script by Kubena. Each exchange, whether inane or purposeful, is socially relevant and applicable.
Lauria and Martinez may not exactly be household names, but each portrayed an impressive amount of range when it came to their confined characters in Down. Given little to work with by way of the actual physical setting of an elevator car, I found it praiseworthy that these two maintain the attention of the story’s entirety with opposing dispositions toward the situation they are in. When the honeymoon is over, it is really over as Lauria and Martinez go from a charming, charismatic meet cute to a sordid, sultry affair, to a hastily violent battle. It’s enjoyable to watch this meeting unfold, but it’s even more fun to watch their tumultuous connection go from sugar-coated to blood splattered.
The thought of being trapped inside of an elevator with one of your coworkers after a long workday sounds like hell, but if it’s with someone you find attractive, interesting, and sexually appealing – those four walls practically expand. Respective corners transform into close quarters as Stamm seamlessly creates layers within the one-dimensional, yet nefarious, environment of Down. While the elevator serves to bring Lauria and Martinez together, it simultaneously opens up a world of hidden obsession, passion, and escalating violence.
The restrictive function of this kind of film element would quickly become a weakness to others, but Stamm and Kubena work it as a loving advantage. The small, mostly bare space successfully operates as an agent of confinement, revelation, and escape. Isolation is a present tone, naturally drawing out honesty and primal reactions. Down is free of flashback scenes, it barely has any additional substantial characters aside from Jennifer and Guy, and has no secondary locations throughout the majority of its runtime. Creative use of lighting and carefully placed exposition remarkably give Down an alternative sense of depth, with Lauria and Martinez providing more than enough content between each other to require additional faces. Sometimes, when you’re in love, that one special person is the only one you see in the room and your little world together is the only one that matters.
When it comes to relationships new and long-term, there is no doubt that the participants have been advised to “keep the mystery alive”. It’s another one of those critical elements that keep productions of the heart and horror exciting and fresh. Down takes an original story, limited setting, and minimal number of characters to pump life into the heart of an exceptional mystery. From Jenn and Guy’s innocent introduction through the fiery conclusion, we’re kept wondering how each sequence is going to play out. Stamm and Kubena understand that if you want to keep your partner, or audience, satisfied, you have to maintain the slight element of surprise. Once the elevator stalls it’s a mind game as to who has ulterior motives. When the car arrives on G and levels the story with the viewer, a different kind of mystery steps forward, one teasing at who will strike the last match in the end.
Unfortunately, love is a lot like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re going to get. Love may be blind, but sometimes someone hides the signs of their negative motives all too well. Down portrays that risk people take each day in their relationships, allowing themselves to trust another wholeheartedly with little recognizance of who that person truly is or could become. We ride the ups and downs on the optimistic notion of mystery. Relating love yet again to the horror genre, it shows that anyone can be a victim in the end.
Down is available February 1st on Hulu. While Down may warn viewers of future encounters, next month’s episode cautions against ignoring debts of the past. Beware the Ides of March when Into The Dark returns on March 1st with Treehouse.
What do you think of Down? Whether you’re indulging yourself or a significant other, what’s your special Valentine’s Day plans? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!