Level 16 Poster

LEVEL 16 (2018)

A dystopian thriller set in a sinister all-girls boarding school. With a premise like that, how could I pass up Level 16, the most recent film from writer/director Danishka Esterhazy (Black Field, The Banana Splits Movie)? Just the fact she’d referred to it as “Jane Eyre meets Logan’s Run” was reason enough to see it.

Set in an unspecified time, (the girls are told the world outside is poisonous, giving it a futuristic vibe), Level 16 is set in an institution that seems to be a cross between an orphanage and some kind of finishing school. It teaches the girls the benefits of proper female behaviour, such as cleanliness and obedience. And warns them against vices such as curiosity.

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Vivien (Katie Douglas) has graduated to Level 16, the last part of her training before being placed with a family. Here she’s reunited with Sophia (Celina Martin), with whom she used to be close before they were separated, (friendships between the girls are strongly discouraged).

It seems Sophia has made a few discoveries over the last couple of years. But she needs her old friend’s help to put the pieces together and discover just what awaits them after they graduate.

From the clues dropped in the early stages of Level 16 we know that whatever is going on, it can’t be good. Scenes of the hulking black clad guards dragging a terrified young girl away. The fact that even as they approach graduation, they can’t read their own names. They’re not being educated, they’re being trained, it seems. But for what?

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Esterhazy keeps the tension up as the story unfolds, as time grows shorter and the stakes grow higher. Conversations between their headmistress Miss Brixil (Sara Canning, Superhost, War for the Planet of the Apes) and Dr. Miro (Peter Outerbridge, The Oak Room, Haunter) tell us that an end is drawing near, but what is it? She also keeps the twists coming, things never play out the way you think they will. Nothing really is what it seems.

A lot has been made of Level 16’s feminist themes. The director is known for them, and they are certainly present here. With an almost entirely female cast, it would be hard for them not to be. Thankfully, they arise out of and are a natural part of the plot, not some grafted on construct. They’re there organically and don’t intrude on or overwhelm the plot. Indeed, when we find out what is indeed going on, these themes all tie together neatly.

An agile thriller that will keep your interest, Level 16 will be in theatres and on VOD 3/1 from Dark Sky Films.

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