In a week of one-name films (Cinderella, Worth, Guilt), I hereby re-name Level 16 as Sinister. Better yet, it shall be Barbaric, or Ghastly. In any case, it’s a sci-fi thriller that’s so good, it’s bad, certainly not one to recommend to any civilized person. “In a highly regimented boarding school, a pair of students discover that things are not as they seem,” warns the IMDb summary of Level 16. That much is true. In a concrete setting, it’s even worse than you can imagine, if that’s possible. If you’ve noticed a grayness to the pictures, such is purposeful. These girls never see the light of day. Their school is their home is their prison. It cost very little to make Level 16, although in fairness, that fortifies its effect.
The seven virtues taught to the Vestalis students are Obedience, Cleanliness, Patience, Humility, Purity, Sweetness and Modesty. The first four vices are Curiosity, Anger, Sentimentality, and Slovenliness. All are given the hope that they will soon be adopted. A proper girl must know how to dress. Yet, none are taught to read. Miss Brixel runs a tight ship. Dr. William Miro tends to their medical needs. By Level 10, the girls are docile. They can barely wait until Level 16, looking forward to their new families. So regimented are they, any unclean activities must be reported. No one dares be unclean. If all this appears rather chilling, such is the life of Sophia and Vivien. Locked in, how do they escape and to what do they escape? I give Level 16 3.0 Gavels and it receives an 83% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a more reasonable 6.1/10 IMDb score.
Strictly controlled, a Level 10 Vivien steps out of line to help Sophie. Declared unclean, a punished Vivien never forgets. Years later, Sophie advises Vivien not to swallow the vitamins and to be wary of the Russian, Alex, during the dark period. Why do they wear fancy dresses to bed? What are the injections? Why are they bruising? As Vivien becomes more aware of her surroundings, she, too, thinks that they must escape. But how?
Both Katie Douglas (Vivien) and Celina Martin ((Sophia) give outstanding performances of two young girls, indoctrinated at a young age, struggling to understand. Katie currently stars in Ginny and Georgia, also on Netflix. Creepy Miss Brixil, played by Sara Canning (War for the Planet of the Apes), seems to have second thoughts about the activities at Vestalis. Is she really remorseful, or merely afraid of their investors?
Could this activity go on for 16 or more years without anyone discovering it? Did the writers place this in Russia for that very reason? When an item goes missing, the retribution becomes Hitleresque. “Each day a girl will be punished until the item is returned.”
“There’s a building toward the inevitable, but it’s not boring/predictable. It’s more like a presentiment that has you saying, “No, no, no, no” under your breath with each new awful thing.” Austin Chronicle
“Drawing on the disturbing hermetic worlds of Innocence, Never Let Me Go and The Handmaid’s Tale, Level 16 places us in a supposedly educational environment that is rearing meek, docile illiterates for a purpose that will only gradually become clear.” SciFiNow
It’s easy to get hooked, concerned for the welfare of these young ladies. You will not like what they discover, an image that will offend. Definitely, this is not a date film.