Film Review : Level 16
Each hall has its top girl
and in this hall it’s me.
“Level 16” really is an original film. Perhaps fairly minimalistic and limited in terms of storyline, but grand when it’s about the denouement. The moment the idea behind it all becomes clear, it all feels rather lurid. The impact on your feelings is immense when the true nature of the girls’ boarding school is revealed. Level 16 is the final stage the girls can reach in a colorless building of the firm Vestalis. The last level before they get a chance to be adopted. And in preparation for that happy day, the girls are drilled like soldiers. They are told that girls should be clean, considerate and dutiful. The girls of the Vestalis Academy must be modest, honest and patient. But loyalty, in particular, is something very important.
Obedience or punishment awaits.
In the meantime, the girls fantasize about how they’ll observe a full moon at night, the day they leave the building. Because they never leave this building. Allegedly, the school has saved them from the toxic fumes in the outside world. Was there an apocalyptic war? Well, that remains a mystery. As well as the exact place where it all takes place. You can only suspect that it takes place in a Slavic country when you hear the conversations between Miss Brixil (Sara Canning) and the Terminator-like guards. Guards who are always summoned when one of the girls doesn’t follow the agreed rules. Like performing their evening ritual where they clean their faces according to strict instructions. Breaking such a rule has consequences for the unfortunate one. A trip straight to a lower floor where a painful punishment awaits. something Vivien (Katie Douglas) experienced personally when she wanted to help her friend Sophia (Celine Martin) at level 10. Not surprising that she reacts aggressively when she is reunited with Sophia on Level 16, 6 years later.
A concentration camp.
From the outset, you have a feeling that this is a kind of concentration camp with Miss Brixil as a real drill sergeant. She was a bit like Ilsa (from “Ilsa, she-wolf of the SS“). Applicable because her husband or boyfriend Dr. Miro (Peter Outerbridge) could easily be compared to Josef Mengele. And both rule over this artificial, dammed world where they are in control as true tyrants. The girls are psychologically brainwashed. As hypnotized they are watching a pre-war television set where the virtues and vices are listed in a cold-hearted way. And with the regularity of the clock, they are summoned to take a dose of vitamins that are necessary for a healthy body and to prevent diseases. After all, it’s Sophia who confides in Vivien and tells her that not everything seems the way it should be. And that the institution has a very different purpose in mind that they claim.
Excellent acting by Katie Douglas.
Maybe it all looks a bit too strict and sterile. And the pace of the film will be a bit too slow for some. What impressed me was the acting and empathy of the girls. Katie Douglas, in particular, was a pleasure to see. Not only because of her angelic and spotless appearance. But also because of her acting. One moment she looks very serious and fearful like a trapped guinea pig. The next moment there’s this innocent and spontaneous smile because of a short-term reward. One moment she’s the very milk of human kindness. And next, we see her as an ice-cold fellow student whose sole purpose is to succeed in what she’s trained to do. To be a good girl who will be chosen to be adopted. And she’ll stop at nothing to achieve that. Just simply exquisite.
YA movie for adults.
The film “Level 16” is difficult to categorize. On the one hand it has a dystopian character. On the other hand, it also has horror elements. And perhaps you can also see it as a socially critical film in which the concept of ideal female beauty is being criticized. It also resembles a psychological thriller in which you can see how isolated individuals react in certain circumstances (similar to “The experiment” for example). Maybe the pace was on the low side, but the denouement makes up for a lot. “Level 16” surprised me in a pleasant way. And the magnificent acting is also part of it. “Level 16“, a “Young Adult” movie for adults.
My rating 6/10
On Sale Today: The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai
The perfect tie-in for the fifth season of ‘Cobra Kai’ is here.
This feature was made possible by an advance copy from Harper Collins and Dey Street Books.
As the holiday season approaches and fans of the wildly-popular Cobra Kai have likely binged the show’s fifth season, a new addition has arrived that is a must-have for any true sensei. That would be The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai; a new book chronicling the history and making of the Netflix series.
Serving as the official companion to the series, The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai is filled with vibrant page-turning designs with complete character breakdowns, interviews (including an insightful chat with stunt coordinator Don Lee) and beautiful pictures from the show and behind-the-scenes.
For a complete synopsis of what to expect from the book, see the official one courtesy of Harper Collins below:
The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai is a celebration of the superfans — an essential companion to the show acting as a master sensei ready to guide readers through the karate-crazed San Fernando Valley. The legacy of The Karate Kid and Cobra Kai continues with never-before-seen photographs and illustrations as well as interviews with Ralph Macchio (Daniel LaRusso), William Zabka (Johnny Lawrence), Martin Kove (John Kreese), Xolo Maridueña(Miguel Diaz), Mary Mouser (Samantha LaRusso), and MUCH MORE!
The show’s creators will give an unprecedented look inside the making of Cobra Kai: the writing, directing, and production of this beloved franchise that has grown from scrappy underdog to a global phenomenon. You will hear directly from the show’s crew, including our stunt team who will give you an exclusive behind the scenes look into fight choreography, journey through the Valley from the magical retreat of the Miyagi-do dojo to the humble strip mall that houses the Cobra Kai dojo with our set designers, and hear from our composers how the badass soundtrack for the show was conceived. And much more!
What better time than while you wait for the sixth season of the show to read through this incredible guide to all things Cobra Kai? Plus, what would your sensei likely suggest you do? Strike first and get your copy of The Kick-A** Book of Cobra Kai today.
Check out their official website for more information, including where to buy the book.
‘A Haunting in Venice’ Marks the Return of Branagh’s Poirot
Production on 20th Century Studios’ “A Haunting in Venice,” an unsettling supernatural-thriller inspired by Agatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party, is set to begin next month. The film, which is directed by Oscar® winner Kenneth Branagh (“Belfast”) and features a screenplay by Oscar nominee Michael Green (“Logan”), will shoot at Pinewood Studios outside London and on location in Venice. A brilliant acting ensemble portraying a cast of unforgettable characters will be featured, including Kenneth Branagh, Kyle Allen (“Rosaline”), Camille Cottin (“Call My Agent”), Jamie Dornan (“Belfast”), Tina Fey (“30 Rock”), Jude Hill (“Belfast”), Ali Khan (“6 Underground”), Emma Laird (“Mayor of Kingstown”), Kelly Reilly (“Yellowstone”), Riccardo Scamarico (“Caravaggio’s Shadow”), and Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”). “A Haunting in Venice” will open in theatres nationwide in 2023.
Set in eerie, post-World War II Venice on All Hallows’ Eve, “A Haunting in Venice” is a terrifying mystery featuring the return of the celebrated sleuth, Hercule Poirot. Now retired and living in self-imposed exile in the world’s most glamorous city, Poirot reluctantly attends a séance at a decaying, haunted palazzo. When one of the guests is murdered, the detective is thrust into a sinister world of shadows and secrets.
Kenneth Branagh will once again reprise the role of Poirot and will direct the movie as well. Michael Green penned the script, based on Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party. And Production will take place at Pinewood Studios outside London and on location in Venice. In a statement, Kenneth Branagh said:
“This is a fantastic development of the character Hercule Poirot, as well as the Agatha Christie franchise. Based on a complex, little known tale of mystery set at Halloween in a pictorially ravishing city, it is an amazing opportunity for us, as filmmakers, and we are relishing the chance to deliver something truly spine-chilling for our loyal movie audiences.”Kenneth Brannagh
Steve Asbell, president of 20th Century Studios, added, “We are enormously privileged to continue our long collaboration with the incomparable Sir Kenneth Branagh and couldn’t be more excited by the bold new creative direction Ken, Michael, and the rest of the filmmaking team have taken with this latest film. We also remain grateful to James Prichard and the rest of our friends at Agatha Christie, Ltd., for their partnership and for once again entrusting us with, as Poirot modestly calls himself, ‘probably the greatest detective in the world.’”
I’m such a huge fan of Agatha Christie and of what Branagh has done with the last two films. He’s brought Christie into a contemporary era as we’ve ventured from a murder aboard the Orient Express to a Death along the River Nile. His adaptations are beautifully stylised and this Haunting aesthetic is going to be perfect for an October release maybe?
Interview: Director Rob Jabbaz talks “The Sadness” Ahead of Fantasia Film Festival Premiere
Having been selected for numerous festivals including Fantasia, Locarno and Fantastic Festival, The Sadness is the latest extremely violent Taiwanese horror film. The film sees a virus spontaneously mutate giving rise to a mind-altering plague causing the streets to erupt into violence as those infected are driven to enact the most cruel and ghastly things they can think of. The age of civility is no more. There is only “The Sadness”. We were lucky enough to talk to the film’s writer/director/editor Rob Jabbaz about his process making the film during the pandemic.
How does it feel to have your first feature film being selected for big festivals like Fantasia, Locarno and FrightFest?
At the risk of sounding pompous, it seemed pretty obvious to me. I’m very critical of my own work and I think the film is really good. When I made The Sadness, I was really uncompromising and just running on pure willpower. Anytime I ran into an obstacle of people trying to tone something down or make something less hard, I just had to bulldoze over them. And I really stressed myself out. I didn’t realise that I was getting so stressed until after it was all over. I was sleeping 16 hours a day for a couple weeks; I was just so tired. I was like, why am I so tired? And then it obviously dawned on me, like, oh, it’s because you’ve just been stressing yourself out for six weeks. Not necessarily physically, but just mentally and emotionally too.
When I was editing it, I thought, this is awesome, this is working exactly the way that I wanted. When I finished the first cut of the film, I felt really strongly about it like this is gonna make people shit their fucking pants. And then once I found Raven Banner as our distributor and seeing real horror people appreciate the film as opposed to just the casual horror audience like the Taiwanese horror audience and them realising what I had done, it was awesome. And then at that point, when they said that they wanted to do a festival run with it, what other movies got made during the pandemic? So I knew even just by default I would have at least one of the top 5 horror movies of 2021. So that’s part of what informs me to say it didn’t surprise me that we got into Fantasia and Fantastic Fest. Locarno did surprise me; it was really nice to see it get picked up by arthouse festival like that. That was the one that was really flattering.
How did the idea for the film come about?
I was working as a staff writer for this entertainment company, writing scripts that may or may not get made. This was before the pandemic when being able to work from home was cool and attractive at the time. But then when the pandemic happened, my boss was like, okay, Hollywood’s closed, we can make a movie right now and we won’t have any competition but we need to release it soon. And then he says it has to be a virus or zombie movie. I thought I don’t want to write a zombie movie, that’s boring, it’s all been done to death, what’s left to say with that? So I started thinking about ways to push the envelope without pushing the small budget. And I thought, what if we make them really cruel and really sadistic. They’re sadists, they take pleasure in harming other people. This made me think of a comic from years ago called Crossed. I took a look at those comics and I was like, this is cool, but this isn’t quite right because these characters are still being treated like zombies. They’re not talking enough, they’re not expressing themselves enough. So I tried to give myself memorable villains to work with and some ideas, but what you need is that one auxiliary idea connects it all together.
It really was just based around creating a lot of good gore gags and very painful effects and set pieces and stringing them all together. I’ve watched a lot of horror movies and I know where I can cut the fat. And I know where I could give a second helping. I really just thought let’s give the audience all the good stuff and keep the story enough there so that we know what needs to happen next. But I don’t want the story to trip over itself. Because there’s nothing worse than in a horror movie when you just you halt everything and then all of a sudden there’s an explanation and it’s about this and that. Show me someone getting their fucking lungs ripped out, show me something cool. Or show me something I’ve never seen before. Don’t just show me these stupid obvious emotional beats. If you want to show me an emotional beat, do it in a way that I’ve never seen before. And that’s what I tried to do with the very end of the film.
Given your background in VFX and animation was there ever a tendency to rely on VFX or did you try and do things practically?
You use the right tool for the right task and The Sadness was all gore. I’ve yet to really see CG create realistic effects. It just doesn’t feel painful enough to me. What that boils down to is it needs to be messy, and you need to see the mess go all over the place and get stuck in hair. I knew right from the beginning that it needed to be practical effects. There are a couple of things where we use some VFX and there’s a bit of an amalgam of VFX and practical effects. You’re just trying to be practical and figuring out what works best and what is the cheapest, but at the same time not at the expense of it looking awesome.
I was pushed against trying to do like a lot of this stuff practically. One of the people who was working for me had a lot of experience and he was said you shouldn’t do practical effects, because maybe the blood isn’t going to work the way that you want it to and if one of those things doesn’t work properly, it’s going to take a long time to reset. Every day when we make a film like this you’re just shovelling money into a furnace essentially so you have to be efficient with time. I was just like, what the fuck are you talking about? Have you ever heard of editing? We just shoot everything. We do every gore gag as an insert so the audience can see it. It’s not like I want these things happening in the background. I want the camera in there so you can see it. I’m not trying to do some bullshit like The Revenant where the cameras are doing everything in one take. It’s distracting, I don’t like that shit. Ironically, I think that a long take for an action scene is less cinematic then if it’s edited because editing is part of cinema. I don’t want to do any of this all in one take. I want to do this like a movie. I told them one thing you need to remember, I don’t want to run out of blood. I want to always have at least 15 gallons of blood on hand every day so that we never run out.
How did you end up directing The Sadness? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I wrote the script, and I gave it to the guy. He said he liked it and then he went to go look for a director and no one wanted to do it for the price that we had. And then he came to me and said, ‘Hey, Rob, do you want to try doing it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, God, I don’t know.’ We hear all the horror stories of directing a film and then getting fucked with the whole time, people telling you not to do this, or people telling you that you’ve got to do it this way. You end up stressing yourself out every single day and then in the 11th hour, they give it to some fucking shithead to do the edit and you don’t get final cut. I said I can do this film but there’s only two ways I can do it. The first way is I can phone the whole thing in, and I’ll show up to the job, I’ll facilitate the production and I won’t give a fuck about it but I’ll get it done. Or I can make it my life and I can take it to heart as much as one can take something to heart. But in order to do this, you need to let me do it exactly the way that I want and you need to give me final cut. He said I don’t want you to phone it in, I want to give you number two.
Once I had that, I felt happy about it. I’ve done shorts and I like telling stories and I can create worlds so I I’ve always wanted to do a feature. I liked this script and I like the energy of the film and how it works as it is, but if you were to read the screenplay of The Sadness, it’s not the best screenplay to be honest. It’s decent, but it’s not showcasing my ability as a writer as much. I knew that if anyone was going to do it properly, it was going to be me. And I’m looking forward to The Sadness heralding the beginning of my feature filmmaking career. I look at some of my favourite filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and I just think ‘how does he do that?’. That’s what I aspire to be like. I don’t know if that’s really possible for me but it’s about having an aspiration and working towards that.
When you were making The Sadness did you ever have any second thoughts about how extreme and violent you were making it?
For me that kind of just seemed like fair play. There’s a particular tone to it, maybe my film feels more violent because it’s happening to innocent people, and it’s presented in a more realistic way. Whenever you’re making a horror movie you’re trying to tap into people’s fears at the time. And at the time, the spread of the virus actually wasn’t really a big concern in Taiwan. People weren’t wearing masks, people were out at bars dancing with no masks and the rest of the world was fucked. You guys were all inside, depressed, and meanwhile Taiwan is having outdoor music festivals and stuff. The virus aspect of the film was not really that much of a big deal.
For me, what was kind of a big deal was tapping into a fear that is very specifically Taiwanese and East Asian, this fear of unprovoked violence. There’s this idea that you just mind your own business and you do your job, work hard, and don’t get involved in someone else’s affairs if you don’t have to. It’s like a fundamental foundation for morality in East Asian culture from my perspective at least. The idea of just a random act of violence, like somebody on the train, just pulling out a knife and starting to stab people. And then you’re like, holy shit, and next thing you know, a guy is stabbing a pregnant woman with a set of keys and then another guy is biting off a guy’s Achilles tendon and some guy’s stabbing a girl in the face with an umbrella. It’s just completely senseless. There’s no political motivation, there’s no reason or logic to any of it. It’s just mindless, senseless violence. I was trying to tap into that fear of unprovoked violence. And I think that a lot of people here in Taiwan might have thought that crossed the line. But you know, that’s the price we pay for the freedom of artistic expression.
I’ve been spoiled. I wrote it, directed it, edited and had final cut, I’m spoiled. I’m like when the Coen brothers did Blood Simple and they didn’t have to listen to anybody. It’s kind of like a precedent was set, I don’t go backwards, I go forwards. I’m going to try to maintain that kind of control over the work that I do. And my argument for that would be in order for you to get me to create something like The Sadness, you’re going to have to try to recreate the similar circumstances. I can’t work feeling like the shit’s gonna get pulled out from under me. I have to feel in control of the work. I have to be in love with the work.
The Sadness had its European premiere at the Locarno Film Festival and will have its North American premiere at Fantasia later this month.
Read our review of The Sadness HERE
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