October 11, 2018
‘Into the Dark’ Review: Hulu’s Horror Anthology Series Kicks Things Off With “The Body”
(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
Paul Davis’ The Body kicks off Hulu and Blumhouse’s Into The Dark programming with an inaugural terror-tale of October’s Halloween fame. It’s no Trick ‘r Treat based on holiday immersion, yet manages to maintain a fun “evil in plain sight” vibe nonetheless. One dashingly charismatic hitman, Wilkes (Tom Bateman), has four hours to deliver his employer’s high-profile corpse if he wants to get paid. Hitches present themselves along the way – boozy parties, deflated tires, unexpected romance – but Wilkes’ stony sophistication makes everything into a game. One that innocent interveners stand no chance of winning.
Crossing paths with Wilkes are Alan (David Hull) the wealthy name-dropper from Massachusetts royalty, sassy real-girl Dorothy (Aurora Perrineau), and rich playboy shindig host Jack the “Monster Maker” (Ray Santiago). Alan is enamored by Wilkes’ “costume” and demands he steal Jack’s show in exchange for a ride. Wilkes, avoiding police heat, decides to accept the trade. It’s at the rave where Wilkes notices Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse) in her Marie Antoinette get up, and all the players are assembled.
Then Wilkes’ “dummy” corpse starts spitting blood and cover is blown (early on, as well).
If The Body doesn’t sound like “horror,” know that Davis’ direction and Tom Bateman’s performance borrow heavily from Halloween and Michael Myers. Wilkes’ unbound view on death and consequence may be a large source of existential dread – life doesn’t matter, we don’t matter, do whatever you want – but the assassin’s stealthy pursuit leads with stalk-and-gaze menace. Especially true once Alan, “Dot,” and Jack reach a graveyard mausoleum/incinerator where Wilkes taunts his prey by looming in doorways or under street lamps. Planted in the ground, staring Dorothy in the eyes. Appearing behind Jack, slowing his chase for the enjoyment. Bateman’s mask is that of a batshit Bond gentleman, hiding the maniac murderer who values existence like nature regards the weak. Chilling when framed correctly.
A large portion of The Body is spent teasing Maggie’s infiltration of Wilkes’ guarded internal prison or following three inexperienced body thieves. The only way Alan and his crew can survive is if they destroy Wilkes’ saran-wrapped celebrity victim – definitely not Elijah Wood despite wishes for a smaller body – which they have *no* idea how to navigate. Bickering is non-stop, just like Maggie’s aid in locating the scared, fleeing partygoers flirts with relationship disaster. Wilkes is only ever in control, but it’s cute to watch as dumbfounded characters try their best to outsmart a killer fifty steps ahead of his own fallback plans (Wikipedia instructions on how to dissolve a corpse, etc.). Never challenge someone who knows what Casu Marzu is – maggot-filled cheese – and indulges right after stabbing a man to death.
Halloween accents are a bit sparse, utilized to move Wilkes and “the body” into a costume party scenario where Jack theatrically emerges dressed as Hannibal Lecter. “Hell’s empty and all the devils are here.” I get it. That doesn’t excuse minimal time spent at Jack’s high-class-trash rager filled with body shots, bud, and an escape-room-panic-room. It’s the one night a year Wilkes can walk around without suspicion, but Davis leaves Halloween traditions begging to be skewered with sharper prods. Preferably of the three-pronged variety.
Performances ensure The Body doesn’t spoil outside its wrapper. David Hull does his best “White Josh reenacting a Breaking Bad episode he saw one time,” which sounds gimmicky, but as Alan screams his given name like a get-out-of-jail-free card with zero awareness it only becomes more indulgent. Ray Santiago’s manchild finds himself frustrated and out of ideas when he can’t just throw money at his problems, detailing the same privilege. Then there’s Aurora Perrineau, who busts both men raw as they bicker incessantly. So much time is spent discussing accelerated decomposition methods, and weak on-screen chemistry would have been a major buzzkill. Hull, Santiago, and Perrineau don’t permit such dead air.
Bateman – ironic given his American Psycho vibes – and Rebecca Rittenhouse explore a different dynamic, equally enticing but more reflective of societal boredom. Rittenhouse’s symbol of regality is so desperate for the freedom that Bateman’s shot-caller “enjoys.” An uninhibited life of immorality versus a “good” existence acting on other people’s commands. The more Wilkes allows Maggie into his dark web world, the more her good girl veneer rusts away. She’s priming herself to be failed in the end – Bateman’s emotionless face able to *never* give a single tell – but plotting twinkles with fairy tale hope and rom-com interludes (bathroom touch-up sequences) as to find love in a bloodsoaked place. Again, worse performances would have made this a generic dance of fluttering eyes at a suited-up wolf. Not here.
Alright, time to tally the scorecard.
The Body – based on Davis and co-writer Paul Fischer’s original short – is an intriguing jumping-off point for Into The Dark. Some aspects work gangbusters. Tom Bateman’s “Agent 47 meets Patrick Bateman,” a particularly gruesome embalming fluid kill, and played-up caricatures prove to be witching hour treats (can you spot Alex Winter’s cameo). Other notes fall a little flat, like the need to gloss over modern issues like gun control, police body cams, “mansplaining,” gender norms, and other “woke point” additions that aren’t allowed nearly enough time to breathe. Also, the metal surgical tray? Really? There’s a brilliant opportunity for Blumhouse and Hulu to entice hungry holiday horror fans with sweetly macabre aromas. Let’s just hope future efforts lean heavier into these holiday elements and don’t back off once conflict sets in, as fun as this slasher homage actually turns out.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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