There is a gory moment in the third act of “Down” when the filmmakers abandon all pretense and restraint, spraying the screen with a fountain of blood. In that moment, the movie shows its hand; I turned my brain off and enjoyed the remainder of “Down” as a pulpy diversion. But as fun as “Down” was–and it was fun, to be clear–it was also disappointing. The first half of this film promised something better, more complex, and more discussion-worthy than what we ended up getting.
The film opens with a woman named Jennifer (Natalie Martinez) and a man named Guy (Matt Lauria) working late on a Friday night. They’re headed down to the parking lot of their office building when the elevator suddenly stalls, four floors underground. Their cell phones don’t work. Despite their best efforts to set off the alarm or call for help, they’re trapped in this enclosed space for the 3-day weekend. So, they slowly get to know each other.
This extended sequence, where it’s just the two main characters bantering back and forth, is the film’s high point and the right mixture of clever and flirtatious. There’s an old-fashioned, theatrical rhythm to it.. And even when the dialogue is a bit too cute, Martinez and Lauria deliver it naturally. We believe these two could have a mutual attraction, even under these odd circumstances. Framed differently, the premise could easily fuel a Howard Hawks screwball comedy instead of a horror film.
But this isn’t a Hawks film. And quite suddenly–in the space of a minute, if that–the premise takes a weird, dark turn. There’s a shocking reveal that changes everything we’ve learned thus far. It presents great potential to explore abusive relationships, gender dynamics, consent, and how sex is leveraged and exploited for power and control–all in the context of the horror genre. But the film, despite alluding to these themes, falls short of addressing them in any meaningful way.
Instead, the film rapidly shifts from being a talky, dialogue-driven film to an action-driven cat-and-mouse slasher in no time at all. Both characters make dumb, illogical decisions–necessary only to advance The Plot–and betray their prior cleverness and wit.
There is a way to build horror and tension through talking, facial expressions, and nuance. But “Down” isn’t concerned with ambiguity or complexity after revealing its central twist. If you like your horror movies to end with a big fight, cheeky humor, and a triumphant hero, you’ll get all that. But what a waste, that such a rich premise ends so conventionally.
“Down” is produced by Blumhouse, the production company behind blockbuster hits like “Paranormal Activity,” Happy Death Day,” “Get Out,” and “Sinister.” The company’s ethos is simple: bankroll low-budget horror films and allow the filmmakers a corresponding level of artistic freedom.
Into The Dark, the film anthology series that “Down” belongs to, is Blumhouse’s attempt to replicate their big screen success on Hulu. They’re producing 12 low-budget horror films, each based on a holiday, and releasing them one month apart from each other. October’s film was “The Body,” based around Halloween. Next was November’s “Flesh and Blood,” based around Thanksgiving. December’s film was Pooka!” based around Christmas. Then came January’s “New Year, New You,” based around New Year’s Day. And now, we have February’s “Down,” based around Valentine’s Day.
Here’s the problem: none of the Into The Dark films are of theatrical release quality. They’re made-for-TV movies; they get good reviews by the mere act of being interesting. So on one hand, it feels unfair to judge these films against something they’re not; perhaps, if they were good enough to be theatrical releases, they would have been.
But in today’s entertainment landscape, multi-million dollar blockbusters debut on digital platforms and bypass the theater entirely on a regular basis. As an audience, we have been conditioned to expect more on streaming platforms.
Small films must deliver better quality than what their budgets would imply. “Down,” for better and for worse, delivers precisely what you would expect. Enjoy it on that level, and you won’t be disappointed.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Fun dialogue||Strange editing choices|
|Shocking twist||Becomes conventional in its second half|
|Excellent performances from both lead actors||Gore feels jarring and out of place|
|The setting provokes great tension and claustrophobia||Hokey ending|