Movie Review: Level 16 (2018)

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The dorms are named after flowers and the girls who live in them share their names with Golden Age movie stars.

Spending their days doing everything they can to stay sweet, clean, and submissive while reciting rules about feminine vice and virtues back to the adults in charge, the girls in writer-director Danishka Esterhazy's dystopian work of suspense graduate from one floor to the next and look forward to the day they get assigned to a family after they complete the eponymous Level 16.

A message movie with no shortage of ideas — most of which grow increasingly muddled as Esterhazy's film segues uneasily between feminist science fiction fare and dark thriller — while its origins reside firmly in The Handmaid's Tale, Level 16's wide-ranging plot elements recall everything from Never Let Me Go to 1984.

Running out of gas midway through the overly stoic feature, Level 16 fails to create a valid emotional connection between the film's audience and its characters.

Thus sadly, despite a strong turn by actress Katie Douglas who makes the most of what little she's been given in Esterhazy's meandering script, 16 changes course once again, ultimately morphing into a Shawshank Redemption styles ecape thriller after letting us in on a major foundational secret.

An ambitious if mostly uneven effort, although it's apparent early on that Esterhazy has an awful lot to say, with its chilly core and staccato plotting, the claustrophobic Level 16 feels more like a short lost in the running time of a feature film — or an old episode of The Twilight Zone starring an actress from Hollywood's Golden Age — than it does one cohesive and compelling 102 minute endeavor.

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