The idea behind Hulu’s monthly collaboration with Blumhouse is an enticing one — each month sees a new genre feature themed somehow to a holiday — but the first four entries have been something of a disappointment. They’ve featured some known talents on screen and off and two of them manage some minor thrills, but for one reason or another the results have been underwhelming. February’s film, though, is here to shake that up by gifting genre fans with real suspense, violent fun, and a tightly effective script. If you’ve given up on the series now’s the time to come back into the dark with Down.
Jen (Natalie Martinez) is working late at the office before heading out for a long holiday weekend, but she’s not the only one. Guy (Matt Lauria) is just finishing up work on another floor, and when he gets in the elevator to head down to the parking garage he finds Jen doing the same. They make small talk as they drop forty floors, but five levels underground the elevator suddenly comes to a stop. Neither the alarm nor the intercom work, the doors won’t open, and they’re not confident they’ll be found until after the weekend. They’re frustrated at first but with a water bottle and wine on hand they make the most of it and settle in. They talk, joke around, and even grow intimate in the tight space, but noises outside the elevator and the suspicion that someone might be watching hangs in the air alongside them.
Down is a simple premise paired with a (mostly) single location, and it happily works pretty damn well with only minor bumps. Director Daniel Stamm(A Necessary Death, 2008) finds energy and visual excitement in Kent Kubena‘s script despite the limited confines of the elevator and keeps things moving with a real fluidity. The film eases viewers in with two charismatic characters and while outside POV shots tease a dark threat to come we’re fully invested in the pair by the time the danger hits. Suspense, thrills, and a damning commentary on male entitlement follow.
While the script succeeds in moving the narrative along with real efficiency, the dialogue is equally worthy of praise. The conversations between the pair of strangers feel natural and flow from introduction to acceptance to intimacy under extreme circumstances. The pair move from small talk to a relaxed banter, and it works well to craft their characters which in turn feeds the back half action.
Most of the action occurs in the elevator itself, but we do move beyond its four walls for sequences in the shaft and elsewhere. Stamm milks the scenes for suspense and increasing tension while delivering satisfyingly thrilling moments along the way. The action feels unavoidably small — it’s a television movie after all — but it’s effective with the minimal cast at delivering the thrills and excitement en route to a strong finale.
There are a couple beats that frustrate, though, as characters make decisions that feel as if they exist solely so the film can continue. It’s hard to simply criticize actions as being dumb, but they don’t feel as natural as other choices and ring false because of it. They don’t kill the film, but they’re almost guaranteed to frustrate viewers who’ve been otherwise along for the ride.
Down stands apart from the previous entries thanks to a straightforward narrative — there’s a turn partway through, but there’s power in its overall simplicity — and solid work both on and off screen. Once the threat makes itself known various elements fall into place leaving characters in a fight for their life, and it’s a struggle that thrills and entertains.