Review: DOWN is an All Too Terrifying, Claustrophobic Nightmare Scenario
In spite of it’s vibrant imagery, ready made arsenal aesthetic, and primary colors relating to our connection to blood, Valentine’s Day isn’t a holiday that’s explored as frequently as it should be within the horror genre. Perhaps, this is because My Bloody Valentine really nailed it. Yet, if we were to get more nightmarish thrillers like Down, the newest entry in the Into the Dark collection from Blumhouse and Hulu, it’s safe to say we would be clamoring for many more. Daniel Stamm, alongside first time screenwriter Kent Kubena, have created a tense, dangerously realistic thriller that will quietly crawl under you skin and stay there, edging you onto the edge of your seat, gripping tightly at the edge.
Like it’s other entries, Down takes cues from The Body and New Year, New You and doesn’t focus on Valentine’s Day as the central motif, but instead as a cursory vehicle to tell the hellish story. It’s Valentine’s Day, and cleverly leading into President’s Day, so it’s a long weekend for the office building inhabitants. Jennifer is working late and it seems that Cupid has shot an arrow at the last minute and Jen has decided to fly to New York to see an ex. She runs into Guy on the elevator down to the parking garage, and four stories down, the elevator screeches to a halt. After a few hours of ice breaking, Guy and Jennifer get to know each other and it’s charming and cute and you’ll find yourself wondering when, exactly, is the horror going to set in? A few glances at a creepy security camera will definitely lead your mind in the direction of a Saw like game being played but after things start to get a little more intimate, Stamm and Kubena throw a curveball at you that will have your head spinning. It’s fantastic, too, because once the pitch is lobbed, you’ll see that they’ve been cleverly setting you up all along and it clicks.
Nearly the entirety of the film takes place in the elevator, which Stamm uses to his advantage. When things are light and optimistic, it rarely seems like it even has walls holding this couple in, yet when things go wrong, using smart camerawork and clever lighting, the elevator becomes a prison, a claustrophobes nightmare. It also forces Natalie Martinez (playing Jennifer) and Matt Lauria (playing Guy) to carry almost the entire movie on their acting chops. Yes, the story and some of the set pieces lend a hand in making it effective but the overall payoff of the movie lives and dies on their acting chops. I’m here to tell you, Martinez and Lauria give the performances of their acting careers. Both characters end up flipping personas throughout the run time, they run through a gamut of emotion, and never once do they miss a beat. They’re both affably charming, they’re sincere and genuine, but when distress ramps up, they elevate themselves and prove that they can play each side of the coin. Lauria is great, he bounces around with quick wit rhetoric and slides into a madness and despair that thumps through the screen. Martinez delivers a home run performance. Forced from a bad situation into a worse one, she believably portrays a charismatic lead who is bold enough to rise to the occasion but is still vulnerable, strong but scared.
Down ends up being horrific in a number of truly human avenues. Being trapped, claustrophobia, the fear of being alone. It has some fun gore gags and it’s premise alone is a tense enough idea but a commentary about male privilege and the blurry, terrifying line between love and obsession is played with. Again, Stamm deserves praise for playing with these themes in a movie that is on Valentine’s but never uses that as a central focus. Ultimately, Down is scary because these aren’t supernatural ideas we’re playing with, or even hyperbole of tropes we explore in slashers or torture flicks, it’s absolutely terrifying because of how real these situations are. It connects on a intrinsically terrible reality of how women have to be on guard at all times of their life and that’s what makes it so damn scary.