Judy Greer’s perpetual co-star status is a long-time Hollywood meme. (She’s in on the joke, too: she cheekily titled her memoir I Don’t Know What You Know Me From.) From her breakout role as the scheming assistant with a penchant for flashing in Arrested Development to a run of playing the leading lady’s best friend in mid-2000s rom-coms (13 Going on 30, 27 Dresses) to small roles in highbrow films (The Descendants, Adaptation) and big-budget franchises (Jurassic World) alike, Greer has always been an underutilized gem of an actor.
Good Boy, the latest standalone feature film in Hulu’s Blumhouse horror anthology series Into the Dark, finally gives Judy Greer a chance to shine all on her own. The 44-year-old actor stars as Maggie, a single, recently unemployed reporter (her newsroom goes digital and converts her to an “independent contractor”) who just can’t seem to catch a break. Her boss (Steve Guttenberg) recommends an emotional support animal to manage her anxiety, and she adopts a sweet terrier mix, Reuben, with perky ears and a black spot over one eye. It’s love at first sight for Maggie, and she quickly goes full Dog Mom, dressing Reuben up in pajamas that match hers and buying him buckets of toys. But soon, Reuben starts attacking people — specifically, people who are causing Maggie stress — with a strength and viciousness that doesn’t seem possible from such a tiny animal.
One of Greer’s strengths as an actress is a cheerful relatability, often hiding a deep melancholy just below the surface. That nice-lady-next-door charm is on full display in Good Boy, especially as Maggie struggles to keep it together while Reuben’s body count rises. Her believably nutty performance (with an assist from some adorable dog action) makes Good Boy the best Into the Dark film yet, helping it overcome the series’ consistent flaw: every episode feels like it’s 30 to 40 minutes too long.
Blumhouse’s anthology has been running on Hulu since October 2018, putting out a film every month under the Into the Dark banner. Each “episode” is a self-contained story featuring a different cast and creative team, though Blumhouse founder Jason Blum serves as executive producer on every film. Into the Dark’s gimmick is that each entry is tied to a holiday; Halloween is a no-brainer, of course, but Christmas, Thanksgiving, April Fool’s Day, and Father-Daughter Day all boast their own episodes as well. (Good Boy is tied to June’s Pet Appreciation Week.)
With runaway successes like Get Out and Paranormal Activity under its belt, the Blumhouse logo has come to signify a potential sleeper hit. But the Blumhouse model — giving filmmakers full creative control in exchange for a tight, small budget — means the studio just as often releases sloppy, half-baked features that possibly could have been improved with more money for reshoots and a better edit. (See: Ouija, Truth or Dare, The Lazarus Effect.)
Into the Dark is following the same model, with even smaller budgets and less experienced filmmakers. Many of the creative teams behind Into the Dark episodes previously worked on horror shorts or limited releases, and it seems as though the series offers an opportunity for writers and directors who’ve caught Jason Blum’s eye, but haven’t yet earned the shot at making a theatrical film.
The first episode of Into the Dark, The Body, was in fact based on a short film of the same name, in which a professional hitman, Wilkes (Tom Bateman), uses the cover of Halloween to transport the body of his victim in plain sight, letting passersby assume it’s a part of his costume. The concept is attention-grabbing, but the story quickly deflates when stretched to a measly 82 minutes. The overwrought dialogue, as Wilkes waxes poetic about his worldview, and the unconvincing romantic subplot feel more like time-fillers than a genuine exploration of the character.
Most episodes of Into The Dark barely hit the 90-minute mark, but feel three hours long because the plot falls apart around act three. Like The Body (and Blumhouse films in general), most episodes have intriguing loglines. The Valentine’s Day-themed Down, for example, teases, “A pair of office workers get trapped in an elevator over a long Valentine’s Day weekend, but what at first promises to be a romantic connection turns dangerous and horrifying.” They Come Knocking, a Father’s Day episode, tackles the urban legend of the black-eyed children. Those premises sound like a lot of fun, as do many other Into the Dark titles, but there’s just not enough meat on the story bone to justify a feature-length runtime.
It’s a shame, since there’s certainly a market for a quirky, low-budget horror anthology. Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story is well past its prime. Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot struggles to live up to the weight of its iconic predecessor. Greg Nicotero’s Creepshow draws excellent reviews, but it’s on the streaming service Shudder, which is a niche platform mainly populated by hardcore horror fans. Into the Dark has a lot of potential to become the modern high-concept-low-scare horror series á la The Twilight Zone, but the episodes are just too dang long.
Through the sheer power of Judy Greer’s charisma, Good Boy overcomes the issues plaguing Into the Dark. It’s not that the dialogue is more robust, or the story more fully formed. Good Boy has plenty of filler that could easily be trimmed to fit an hourlong format. But Greer is so fun to watch, with an uncanny ability to make dull dialogue shine, that it doesn’t drag the way most Into the Dark episodes do.
So Blumhouse basically has two options to improve Into the Dark and help it live up to its full potential: either cut the feature-length format and stick to hourlong episodes like its modern contemporaries, or cast Judy Greer as the lead in every entry from now on. It’s what she deserves.
Into the Dark: Good Boy is streaming on Hulu now.
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