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What's worse than being stuck in an elevator over a long weekend? If you said, "Being stuck in an elevator with a psychopath," then ding ding ding... you win!
That's just the shafted scenario explored in "Down," the latest episode/movie and Valentine's Day offering from Hulu's Into the Dark, Blumhouse TV's year of scares. And while visiting the set on the second to last day of a 17-day shoot in Hollywood, SYFY WIRE found out first hand just how low things got.
"Down," directed by Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism), tells the story of two office workers — Natalie Martinez (Death Race, Kingdom) and Matt Lauria (Friday Night Lights, Kingdom) — stuck in an elevator over a long Valentine's Day/President's Day weekend. In the course of the three days, we find out that one of them is not exactly the fine, upstanding individual we thought we knew.
"I think what's really cool, is that throughout this whole thing, you're going to see us have an actual relationship. It's literally going to go from not knowing, to getting to know each other, to not wanting to know each other anymore. From making up to breaking up," Martinez told SYFY WIRE, along with a few other select outlets. "It's the worst first date ever."
"It's like literally two people locked in a box together," Lauria adds.
Here, on Day 16 of the shoot, Stamm finally is letting his actors out of the elevator and into a makeshift shaft. And it's quite apparent that we're at the "not wanting to know each other" stage of the relationship.
"She's not particularly fond of me at this point in the movie," Lauria says.
We watch from the sidelines as Lauria chases Martinez up, down, and around the shaft, cursing and damning her all the while, with promises of murder should he catch her. You know, just another day at the Blumhouse office. Still, it's better than being in that damn elevator.
"It was kind of a trip when they just took the elevator away. We're like, 'Whoa! Where is this little box that we've been in for so many weeks?'" Martinez says. "It's a character in the show. The way we use it, we walk around it, we move around it, we play games, adding things up — like a little basketball net. The way that we used it, it's definitely a character on this show. And it did add to it. And once it gets all crazy in there and wet and bloody, it takes it to a whole 'nother level."
"When you're stuck in a spot with another individual in such a confined space then it all becomes about this," Lauria adds. "Just the storyline, we're delving so deeply into like core beliefs, and values, and psychology of who these individuals are, and who these individuals are under pressure —and what comes to the surface in those high-pressure, very elemental moments in a person."
While claustrophobic might be the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of other elevator scenes, interestingly enough, director Stamm pitched the exact opposite of that. "Let us make this space as beautiful as possible, so that people want to spend an hour and a half in there," Stamm says.
Creating a dynamic story in such a static setting was one of the big challenges for the creators. Lauria explains how they overcame such a task" "We have these really long scenes that really evolve and develop, and have a lot of interesting psychological twists and turns, and then there are these moments of... black! And then you find us sometimes five minutes later, sometimes four hours later. So a key component of that would be like, 'Where were we emotionally before, and how does it totally interrupt that and find us in a different place?'"
"The whole approach was we want to show two people's relationship degenerate over the course of the movie, and the elevator should show that. So the elevator should fall apart just as much as this relationship falls apart," Stamm says. "And that then comes with a two-way relationship: that their conflict is destroying the elevator, and the destruction of the elevator, and what the elevator forces them into, destroys their relationship."
The relationship definitely evolves (and then devolves) over the course of the movie, and the familiarity of that relationship wasn't hard to fake, as Martinez and Lauria had already spent plenty of time in the ring together on the Audience Network's MMA show, Kingdom. In fact, the hardest part was acting like they were strangers.
"Usually, building chemistry between to actors is what you're working on the entire time. So here they came with that, which is such an asset, but then in the story, the whole thing is that their building this familiarity," Stamm says. "So I was like, can they pretend to not have that chemistry, so that we see it in front of our eyes, building up? And they've got that down really well, 'cause they're amazing actors."
"We knew each other, so we could definitely play so much more; we were comfortable, we had a good rapport together. But also, at the beginning, when we were strangers, we had to kind of take that back and pretend we didn't have so much chemistry," Martinez adds. "Because we're good friends and stuff, so we had to make it seem like I didn't know him at all. And I think when our chemistry shows so much, I think the harder part is making it look like we don't have any."
After that chemistry is built up again, it goes away rather quickly. And Martinez's character certainly fights back, but having that fighting background was another thing she had to un-remember for her character.
"I have a fight background, and I'm usually playing these characters like I did with Matt in Kingdom and stuff, where I'm a fighter. So, it's kind of a trip where I did get strong and fought for myself; I had to pretend I didn't know how to fight," Martinez says. "One thing I learned from this character is she definitely has that survival mode that kicks in for her. And I think that's really awesome that I feel like when anything happens to anyone, you just have this thing that comes over you, and you're like: survive... And that was really cool to bring out from her, considering that she's just a normal civilian that just works every day and is not like an MMA fighter or some superhero."
Of course, we expect violence in a Blumhouse production, but this is In the Dark's Valentine's Day offering, so should we be rooting more for this relationship to work out? Martinez is quick to answer in the negative, but Lauria's got an open mind: "Romance comes in all shapes and sizes."
So yes, we're dealing with Cupid's favorite holiday, but this is still Blumhouse. "It has so many different elements that make it scary. Just the thought of being stuck with a psycho in an elevator for a couple of days is horrifying alone, just being stuck in an elevator period with no one coming is scary," Martinez says. "But then when we take it to the levels we take it too, it definitely gets gory, it gets really bloody, and Blumhouse is really good at doing that."
Into the Dark's Valentine's Day episode, "Down," premieres on February 1 on Hulu.