Available On VOD from Mon 27 May 2019

There’s a difficulty when reviewing some properties, wherein referencing comparative works can give away key factors of the story and thus compromise overall enjoyment of the piece. Level 16 hovers around the edges of such an situation. It offers up a universe where it’s clear from the offset that something is amiss, but part of the enjoyment is finding out exactly what, and why.

The story is set in the depths of a subterranean school facility, where the air above ground is toxic, and beneath it cleanliness of mind and body is mandatory. The inhabitants are fed on a diet of set meals, must wash each day in front of a camera, and take vitamin pills each night. Infractions are dealt with “downstairs” and are meted out by hulking Russian-speaking guards in black shirts and sunglasses. Meanwhile, order is kept by the cold-as-ice Miss Brixil (Sara Canning) and the kindly but aloof Dr. Miro (Peter Outerbridge).

Vivien (Katie Douglas) is a model pupil: prim, proper and obedient, until she ascends to the final year of the school, Level 16, when she finds herself in the same hallway as Sophia (Celina Martin). Sophia was witness to Vivien’s only moment of “uncleanliness”; but instead of lording it over her, she asked for help, having noticed that things at the school are not as they seem.

There’s little more that can be said without ruining some aspects of the mystery; however, it’s plain to anyone watching that this scenario is not wholly original. It also doesn’t take a genius to suppose the purpose of the facility isn’t simply a school for orphans. The immediate comparison, which will occur to most during the first half of the film, is most likely Michael Bay‘s action romp The Island. To the credit of writer/director Danishky Esterhazy, Level 16 is a far better variant along that theme.

In terms of acting, it’s refreshing to see the young cast acting with credible skill, from snooty scenes with each other in the open to vulnerable vignettes in private. Some of the most notable moments are when Douglas and Outerbridge have scenes alone, and there’s a palpable sense of hero worship, and a desperate need from Vivien to get some form of validation and praise from the Doctor. It’s unfortunate that this does slide a little in the final drawn-out twenty minutes of the finale, where things get a bit more sketchy in various senses – not least of all with the budget’s clear edges starting to show in some badly cut and awkwardly shot stunt moments, and plainly no money to go further.

It’s certainly an interesting film, but one that never quite reaches the potential that you could hope from the premise. It creates a fascinating scenario, peppered with some rather blunt messaging. The repeated theme of “Obey the Feminine Virtues!”, and the girls being kept clean, pretty, quiet and obedient is more than a little on-the-nose. As to the dystopian sci-fi aspects, it does incite some thought but never quite reaches the philosophical ponderings of a story like 1984, THX-1138, or even Never Let Me Go.