Whoever hired this hitman deserves a refund. Despite being a self-proclaimed expert, Wilkes (Tom Bateman) is utterly incapable of hunting down a single group of drunken college students. Yet he seems utterly unaware of his own lack of skill, much like the show itself. Though “The Body,” the first episode of Blumhouse Productions’ new anthology “Into the Dark” aspires to be an edgy, self-aware thriller, and succeeds to some degree, those successes are completely overshadowed by the unlikable characters, the unnecessarily complicated plot, and poor writing that bogs down the episode.
Written and directed by Paul Davis and based on his 2013 short film of the same name, “The Body” follows Wilkes as he completes an assignment on Halloween night. Tasked with killing a man and delivering his body to a designated drop-off point, Wilkes wraps the body in plastic, disguising it as a Halloween prop, and drags it through the streets. After Wilkes is coerced into attending a Halloween party, a group of college students uncover his identity, discover the body, and steal it. Wilkes must track down the group with the help of his newfound accomplice, Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse), in order to deliver the body on time.
The episode begins with an interesting and compelling premise. Watching the hitman drag his deceased target through the streets unimpeded by others, who often congratulate him on an excellent Halloween costume, is entertaining and suspenseful as we wait for his disguise to ultimately fail. But when the hitman starts making illogical, impractical, and often irritatingly silly decisions, the suspense disappears. For instance, Wilkes agreeing to attend the Halloween party in exchange for a ride to his drop-off point, rather than finding an alternate means of transportation, is hard to believe. This is only one of dozens of examples of poor choices the character makes that call into question the validity of the profession he portrays. Additionally, once the body is stolen by the group of students, the compelling premise is all but gone as the film quickly devolves into nothing more than a typical, routine, slasher film.
This problem is only exacerbated by the poorly written, bothersome characters. It is difficult to sympathize with or root for any of them as they all continuously make poor decisions when an obvious, better solution is readily available. The motivation behind the group of students stealing the body is ridiculous and, once that plan is no longer valid, they move on to a worse, equally ridiculous plan, rather than calling the police or removing themselves from the situation. With one bad decision after another, it becomes impossible to care about what happens to them.
Similarly, the hitman’s incompetence is off-putting and unjustified. He continually forgets to finish off his victims and leaves obscene amounts of evidence. This could have been played for comedic effect but, instead, the show still tries to paint Wilkes as a seasoned killer as though unaware of how ineffective and bumbling the protagonist seems. He has no sense of urgency as he walks from location to location, even stopping for a drink in a local bar. This derails any tension that the stopwatch in the bottom right corner of the screen is meant to induce announcing how much time he has left to make his deadline. If he isn’t concerned about it, then why should we be? Perhaps we are supposed to be impressed by his arrogant indifference. I wasn’t. On the contrary, I was annoyed.
Additionally, the character, Maggie, is entirely unbelievable. After witnessing Wilkes kill an innocent bystander at the Halloween party, she decides to team up with him due to some latent dark tendencies inside her. The relationship between Wilkes and Maggie always feels forced, and her motivation for suddenly helping him is absurd.
Additionally, the story is not well written and cannot justify its feature-length runtime of 82 minutes. A large chunk of the episode is devoted to the three college students arguing with each other about their next course of action after stealing the body. These conversations go the exact same way every time, and never provide any meaningful information or entertainment. Similarly tedious, the hitman engages in at least three different philosophical rants about the meaning of life and death. They are supposed to be deep but come across as cheesy and redundant instead.
The writers also insert plot twists several times throughout the story in an effort to keep things engaging. However, each twist is clearly set-up and highly predictable. As a result, none of them really land, disappointing us instead.
Overall, this episode has a lot of problems. But it is not entirely without its moments. Its self-aware dialogue, along with certain comedic scenarios, insert welcome dark humor into the narrative. These scenes are largely effective and are breaths of fresh air amid the violence. Additionally, the first few minutes of the episode are interesting and the premise is engaging. Nonetheless, these successes are completely overshadowed by the glaring flaws that make the first episode of “Into the Dark” a rough start for the new Blumhouse series.
At the same time, despite the disappointing beginning, hope is not yet lost. This is merely the first episode of what is to be a 12-part anthology. In its other films, including “Get Out” and the “Insidious” series, Blumhouse Productions has proven itself to be a more than capable studio. With future episodes being undertaken by different writers and directors, the show’s future could be promising. Suspend judgment on the series as a whole until more episodes have come out and give Episode Two a chance when it premieres on Nov. 2. But until then, skip “The Body” in the hopes for a brighter future for the series.
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