SHOWN AT FRIGHTFEST 2012
RUNNING TIME: 84 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A bomb maker has just made a bomb which will “kill everyone within five metres” and gives it to an unseen client. Sometime later, eight people are headed for a cocktail party in a building owned by billionaire Henry Barton, who is about to announce his retirement. Their names are ticked off by a security guard and they board a lift manned by Mohammed. As they near the floor where the do is taking place, Henry’s young granddaughter Madeline presses the stop button to wind up the obnoxious George Axelrod, who is annoying everyone, after which no one can get the lift moving again. Even worse, one of their number may have a bomb……
Films revolving around lifts are actually not that uncommon; I’m particularly fond of the Dutch De lift from 1984, which actually made the concept of a killer elevator work pretty well [the later The Shaft wasn’t so good though], though most of these films feature a group of people trapped in a lift and use it to create suspense with variable results. Not that long ago we had the underrated if flawed Devil, and now we have Elevator, which seems to have been held up somewhat for release and probably won’t get the major cinema release it deserves. I say ‘deserves’, because Elevator is probably the best lift-orientated movie yet. It’s a clever, tense picture that should be treated far better than I think it has been. If you love films that take place mostly in one setting with a small number of characters, you’ll probably adore Elevator, but I would recommend everyone to check out this outstanding example of low budget filmmaking.
I will say now that not quite all of the film takes place in a lift, and the first ten minutes or so set the central situation up adroitly. The opening scene has “us” as the unseen person who is being given the bomb so we just see the bomb maker, a simple but effective device which both grabs our interest and disorientates us. All our main characters are introduced in tiny scenes though it’s the sequence where they give their names to the security guard where we get a proper idea of all of their personalities, something that is then built on in the next minute or so, while the lift is still moving. Some of these folk are somewhat archetypal, but do convince as fully rounded human being right from the start, a good thing because we spend the rest of the film with them, and even the most clichéd are given interesting touches. The typical rich, uncaring business magnate Henry may be very much like the banker you just want to hate, and that does not change very much, but he also has a small granddaughter which immediately gives him some sympathy.
As the film progresses, some of the characters find themselves linked in ways that are unexpected. Others just seem to annoy the others, but in a believable way. One person is George, a comedian, and not a very good one it seems, but his sarcastic and even offensive comments obviously hide a deep insecurity. Some stuff is a little forced, such as George making racist remarks to Mohammed, but overall I believed what I was seeing, despite being given a revelation or too which doesn’t have much bearing on the main story. This, of course, is the fact that there is a bomb in the lift. We are told this around a third of the way in, and even told who the person with the bomb is. As Alfred Hitchcock [who is referenced with a mention of his 1944 flick Lifeboat, possibly the first movie of this type] said, “suspense over surprise”, except that just after you think you know what the set-up for the rest of the film is going to be, the bomber dies!
After this….well, I don’t want to ruin too much of the film, but the tension, which was palpable even before there was a bomb, increases and increases at a steady rate. There’s a really nail baiting ‘find the bomb’ scene, made even better by the person you would least expect doing the finding, some action outside the lift, and some really gruesome stuff near the end which is not shown in much detail but almost makes up for it with horrible and convincing sound effects. The bloody turn the story takes will please horror fans in a film which isn’t really a horror film at all, but doesn’t feel gratuitous; it feels like a proper development of the story. Of course to make the film work it has to make ‘Maintenance’, the guys who are supposed to come and rescue them, incompetent and even vague, but I think most of us can relate to how useless people who you need in a crisis often are!
Some may find the ending a little unsatisfying but there are only a certain number of ways the story can go without going into the overused realm of Big Twists. Writer Marc Rosenberg, as well as creating a simple suspense tale, also attempts to comment on a number of issues such as racial stereotyping and the way unthinking decisions by big financial corporations can negatively affect the little man. He succeeds in making us think about these things without detracting from the main thrust of the narrative. He also throws in bits of perfectly timed black humour in a film which is superbly paced by Norwegian director Stig Svendsen, though it’s the smaller, less noticeable, bits and pieces which are possibly more notable, such as a bit early on where Celine, the typical ‘glamorous’ news reporter who even reports on and films what is happening in the lift [shades of Found Footage here!], talks to Maureen, the fiancée of the somewhat arrogant Don. As Celine asks her questions and finds out Maureen and Don are engaged, Maureen finds out Celine and Don work together. What is Don doing? He’s quietly squirming and sweating, for reasons the most clever viewers may work out there and then, in a great piece of subtle acting by Christopher Backus.
The performances are all very strong. Special kudos to Amanda and Rachel Pace who both play Madeline; I couldn’t tell it was two little girls instead of one, and Joey Slotnick as George, who you want to really dislike but can’t. Perhaps the occasional plot device stretches credibility a bit, but I only thought about those after the film was over. Elevator is one of those films that is almost as good as it could possibly be, but you know what? It was so good even before the bomb stuff that I would have happily sat through it if there had not been a bomb at all, and it had just been about nine people, delving into their psyches and tearing each other apart.