Level 16 comes from the creative mind of Danisha Esterhazy (The Banana Splits – upcoming). The movie was obviously a labor of love for her, as she both wrote and directed it. The story follows a gaggle of young girls in what is meant to be a boarding school. It centers on two of these girls who find out things are not quite as they seem. That’s all I want to say about that, because I feel like it’s going to be very easy to spoil this film if I say anything further, so I won’t.
It’s been my privilege to write for PopHorror for a little while now, although I’m more akin to video reviews and writing novels. Working with this team has been a real surprise and pleasure for me. So, why am I telling you this here in this review? Well, occasionally I am privy to the odd screener, some of which have been less than stellar to review, almost like walking through treacle to get through it.
However, every so often, there is a diamond in the rough! Level 16 is such a thing. It would be well worth your time digging through the plethora of streaming services to find this gem, and here’s why…
The film itself is an indie project in all sense of the word, from budget to locations. That’s not to say it looks cheap. Far from it. The world that is created within this supposed boarding school is tantalizingly vague, fantastic to look at and intriguing at the same time.
The story itself divulges very little at the beginning of the movie. Instead, you must do some super sleuthing yourself, much like our two young protagonists as they discover the whole thing is off somehow. Katie Douglas (Mary Kills People TV series) plays Viviane and Celina Martin (The Other Kingdom TV series, iZombie TV series) plays Sophia. Both young actresses are interesting to watch onscreen. Their reactions to the unfolding horror of their lives are fantastic to see. One of the worst things a movie can do is have young actors in their film with no presence. I’ve seen this time and time again. I could mention a few large franchises, one that has bombed recently (partly) because of the lead had almost zero presence, but I won’t for fear of being stoned!
But Level 16’s leads work excellently together. They certainly have presence, and I think that’s partly because of the directing and the minimalistic script. The movie often feels out of place. It puts you on edge. It never lets you feel safe for the girls. It reminded me a bit of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Dario Argento’s Suspiria. If you took those two movies and mashed them together then stripped them back, then you’d be close to something of what Level 16 is. There was no point at which I was bored. I did not clock watch.
I viewed this film with my wife and my younger son, (who was meant to be doing homework, but he was peaking around the corner, because even from what could hear, the story gripped him enough to want to find what was happening on screen.) My wife and I are like those annoying people in the cinema that kept asking each other questions. “Is it body snatchers or is it aliens? Is it alien body snatchers?” And to my surprise, we did not come close to guessing what was going on until the movie revealed it to us.
We live in a world where we are inundated with a variable cornucopia of movies, shorts and television series. With so much fighting for our eyeballs’ attention, and where big budget films are rehashing the same tired old scripts in a glossy case, Level 16 dares to be unique. The reveal itself isn’t mind-blowing, but it definitely feels fresh. The journey getting there is rather enjoyable. The leads are excellent. All the acting, in fact, is good. There are no weak links here!
It’s not perfect, though. There was one issue I had with the guards that looked after the children. I think they are intended to be menacing. At least, the girls act like they are. The thing is, they wore sunglasses all the fricking time. Come day or night, they had them planted on their faces. It was such an odd choice that I thought, for sure, there was going to be a reason for it in the movie. But no. It’s like some bad ’90s trope where the bad guys wear sunglasses! I don’t get it. Maybe I missed something. It’s possible. But it just came across as cheesy, and it did take something away from the movie. My wife mentioned it before I did, so I’m not alone in that.
Leaving the cheesy Men In Black sunglasses aspect behind, I found Level 16 to be quite a treat to watch. It keeps you guessing. The filming is interesting and daring at times. I felt my time was well spent staring at my screen for two hours.
Side note: if you are expecting horror and gore, There is not much of that in here. The film is suspenseful, sure, and has horrific moments, but I’d probably class it as a thriller/drama more than anything else.
I’ve seen people give review ratings in various ways, but I’d just like to say, watch it! Give it your time. You won’t be sorry. In the words of the little girl from Aliens, “Mostly!” will enjoy Level 16.
Read another PopHorror reviewer’s thoughts on the film here.