Hulu’s newly launched horror anthology series Into the Dark is built on a fantastic concept: every month, on the first Friday night of the month, the streaming service will launch one movie-length, seasonally-themed episode. Teaming with the horror heavyweights at Blumhouse, the streaming network has created a digital drive-in where you can drop by monthly to catch a new spooky feature. If you’re a fan of horror and love the communal experience of talking about the latest streaming hits, there’s nothing not to love about the concept. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired in the first episode, The Body, which struggles to merit its feature length run time and fails to provide a sense of personality for the series.
Much like the series it belongs to, The Body hinges on a clever concept it can’t live up to. Adapted from director Paul Davis‘ award-winning short of the same name, The Body follows a handsome hitman known as Wilkes (Tom Bateman), who prefers to kill on Halloween because he can lug a corpse around while covered in blood and everyone will just assume it’s part of a costume. Cute, cheeky, smart, and absolutely perfect for a short film. At a full feature length, however, Davis and his co-writer Paul Fischer can’t quite figure out what to do with the character once they set him lose on the streets, relying on stale slasher tropes, stiff comedic beats, and a lead performance that falls flat.
Wilkes hits the streets and it’s only a matter of minutes before a bro-ish dude (David Hull, whose #ME shirt makes for one of the episodes few truly funny gags) begs him to come with him to a Halloween party where he can show off his new friend’s badass costume/prop. So just like that, we find Wilkes at a bangin’ Halloween party, body in hand, where he meets Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse), a book smart girl ranting about history and patriarchy while dressed as sexy Marie Antoinette who is taken with Wilkes equally vapid rants about art and murder almost instantly. Their relationship teeters on the edge of interesting, but in the end, The Body is content to brush that all aside in favor of becoming a boilerplate slasher. The problem is that it fundamentally misunderstands what makes a good slasher work.
The generic, stagnant plot is a problem –especially compared to the promise of The Body‘s clever concept — but what really hamstrings The Body is an absolute lack of characters worth giving a hoot about. Our ostensible heroes, or antiheroes as it were, are meant to be Wilkes and Maggie, but both are far too self-serious and predictable to invest in. As our stoic, handsome assassin, Wilkes is meant to be mysterious and sophisticated, but he’s too severe to be charismatic and too dry to be charming; neither as shocking as Patrick Bateman, nor as cultured as Hannibal Lecter — though he feasts on the opportunity to wax poetic about delicacies while snacking on Casu Marzu (it’s maggot-infested cheese, google at your own peril) . Likewise, Maggie comes across as a desperate and street-stupid stuck up girl with delusions of grandeur. To put it succinctly, is there anything more insufferable than two people who think nobody else in the world “gets it” but them?
The rest of the ensemble cast doesn’t fare much better; comprised of mostly unlikable characters who make really spectacularly bad decisions. A generic bunch of city hipsters (played by Ash vs Evil Dead’s Ray Santiago, Aurora Perrineau, and David Hull), they are little more than meat for the slaughter, but they fall in a character dead zone, wherein they’re neither likable enough to root for nor hatable enough to root for their deaths. That said, The Body’s most successful moments arrive in the third act slaughter, when the film slides into more traditional slasher territory and leans into an effective edge of brutality. Davis knows how to stage a ruthless kill (and the prop department does a spectacular job putting the titular corpse through the ringer over the course of the night), and he can definitely conjure up some sick-making moments of violence, but ultimately that and a good concept are all The Body has going for it, and that’s just not enough to sustain a feature-length story.
But it’s best not to write off Into the Dark just yet. Full reviews for the Thanksgiving themed episode Flesh & Blood are still under embargo, but suffice it to say, the second installment makes for a much more cohesive, engaging horror yarn. Conceptually, there’s still a lot of gas in this tank, and Blumhouse has certainly proven they know their way around low-budget horror filmmaking, so odds are pretty good that there are going to be some gems over the next year.