Standalone feature film-length (if just barely) anthology series entry on the internet, at least.
Down is the Valentine’s Day installment of Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology series. Its second half can’t live up to the unsettling march into claustrophobic dread that makes up its first forty minutes or so, and it eventually blows a lot of its energy by falling into a rote cat-and-mouse game, but like What Keeps You Alive, it starts off so well that it’s still memorable.
Mostly, Down is a two-hander starring Natalie Martinez and Matt Lauria, who play Jen and Guy, two charismatic, good-looking office workers who get stuck in an elevator over the Valentine’s Day/President’s Day weekend. The alarm button doesn’t seem to be working. There should be at least a skeleton crew of security guards, but help’s still not coming. They’ve stuck several stories into the underground parking garage, so there’s no cell signal. (This may be the only horror movie I can think of where the cell phones work better than they do in real life; sure, they might lack bars, but these phones seem to have nearly immortal batteries.) As Jen says, they have to face the worst-case scenario: there might be no rescue for them until Tuesday.
There’s no immediate descent into cannibalism. At first it seems like the two of them are destined for a very uncomfortable, stressful, painful stay, but a survivable one: they do have a small amount of bottled water, even if their food is limited to a couple of impulsively grabbed Hershey’s Kisses. And director Daniel Stamm smartly deals with some of the most obvious problems right up front–Jen has to pee, and she has to do it more or less in front of a guy who’s a stranger to her, and it’s a practical problem as well as an emotional one.
Martinez and Lauria have good chemistry, and Jen and Guy advance believably towards first playfulness and then flirtation. The movie has a great sense of balance here: with the already-tackled hurdle of how and where to pee and the looming specter of severe thirst and hunger, this is obviously not a typical romantic comedy, but at the same time, these two click, and a romantic comedy vibe hovers over their interactions. The characters as well as the actors lean into it, playing along with the story that they can imagine unfolding.
And then they have sex and everything changes. Guy wants more; Jen doesn’t. They have different scripts after all–Jen is seeing this as a kind of sweet Penthouse letter, a bizarre, self-contained story that she’ll always remember, and Guy is seeing it as the beginning of a lasting romance. The movie doesn’t push this split as far as it could because it quickly hands out a revelation and another escalation, both of which work–even if they’re not quite as interesting to me as the gradual escalation of social discomfort–but unfortunately also lead into the more predictable second half, which tests plausibility by sometimes bending the characters to fit the plot. Despite that, however, there’s enough here that’s good–both clever and emotionally involving–to make it worth recommending.