In matching uniforms of modest decorum the girls walk down the sterile corridors to their dormitory in Lily Hall, playing cat’s cradle, taking their vitamins, scrubbing and anointing their faces before bed and whispering amongst themselves of their hopes. A clean girl embodies sweetness, obedience, loyalty, and only a clean girl will be chosen.
Six years before on level 10 Vivien and Sophia had been best friends until an accident one night when Vivien was punished for Sophia’s failure; now, as Vivien is moved to Rose Hall on level 16 they are reunited but Vivien cannot forgive. As she had told Ava, “there are no friends in this place.”
Under the watchful and unforgiving eye of the haughty Miss Brixil, the girls have been conditioned to be submissive, to display the virtues and avoid succumbing to vices such as curiosity, but as they lie down to rest under the blue nightlight, Vivien cannot help but remember Sophia’s warnings of the men who come at night…
Screened as part of the FrightFest strand of the Glasgow Film Festival, Candian writer/director Danishka Esterhazy’s Level 16 wears its influences on its rough sleeves too readily, The Handmaid’s Tale injected with an extract of Never Let Me Go in the overly suspicious emphasis on the health and presentability of the girls.
Vivien’s transfer allowing her to establish dominance in the new environment of level 16, there is little sisterly bonding when they are constantly measured against the unattainable goals of Miss Brixil, set apart with her blonde hair, lipstick and high heels and her insistence that the girls look down at the floor in her presence.
The girls in their perfect teenage youth, they are everything the buyers are not and it comes as no surprise that they are being groomed as a commodity rather than the prospective adoptive daughters of society they have been led to believe, though the specifics of the transaction only become apparent to Vivien long after the audience have pieced together the abundance of clues.
The glacial narrative pairing Defiance‘s Katie Douglas and The Other Kingdom‘s Celina Martin as Vivien and Sophia, their hesitant steps towards rebuilding trust in the stifling atmosphere are the emotional core, while conversely Eadweard‘s Sara Canning is given a stock villainous headmistress role in Miss Brixil, her belated attempts to justify her actions failing to generate sympathy.
The thin premise stretched too breaking at an hour and three quarters, despite Esterhazy’s achievement in making the most of her minimal resources the eventual revolution of sisterhood is too little too late, Level 16 a stilted dystopia which only succeeds in conveying the unchanging days and endless ennui of a life in captivity.
Level 16 has been acquired by Signature Entertainment