A Well-Rehearsed Concept Let Down By Poor Execution
Level 16 has a great concept but is let down by poor execution. Armed with surprisingly strong themes around beauty and vanity, Level 16 never quite reaches its potential thanks to slow pacing and lacklustre writing.
The story itself takes place in the mysterious Vestalis Academy, a prison-like boarding school where girls are raised from a young age, advancing through levels which act as school years. Promised a new lease of life if they make it through the school, the girls cling to their hope of a better life beyond the grey walls. After being separated as children, Vivien and former friend Sophia are reunited as Viv moves up a level and as they start to defy the rules given to them, they go searching for the truth. Only, the truth may prove to be more horrifying than they could ever imagine.
On paper, the film actually has a very intriguing concept. I’m a real sucker for dystopian fiction and while Level 16 unashamedly borrows some of its ideas from The Handmaid’s Tale, it fails to generate the same rich lore and interesting aesthetic beauty the popular series achieves. Some of this is down to really poor pacing and lacklustre writing that hold Level 16 back from being a better title. With such enthusiasm to show the Academy in all its glory, the film takes a long time to get going and even when the excitement peaks, it never quite manages to achieve as much as it perhaps should.
Vivien feels very similarly written to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Her quiet resentment, growing defiance and courageous bravery, standing up for what she believes in is a trope that really helps us get behind the character. While Sophia does take some time to warm to and the Academy’s two main antagonists don’t quite do enough to make us feel resentment toward them, the motivations and personalities are fleshed out enough to make every character feel compelling and realistically depicted.
Despite its problems, Level 16 does have a nice little twist at the end, a small reward for watching this one through to the end. The setting, lore and overarching story are surprisingly good but frustratingly, this one feels more dull and lacklustre than it should. I wanted to love Level 16 but despite a few stand out moments, this one doesn’t do enough to justify its 100 minute run time.