Judge Alice Nelson is an old school claustrophobe from way back.
4th floor: Ladies apparel, perfume, jewelry, and a fool with an explosive device strapped to his waist.
A film that takes place in the cramped quarters of a passenger elevator can, with the right script, give the viewer the suffocating feel the characters are experiencing. With a bad script, it can make you feel like suffocating might not be such a bad idea. Two of my favorite films that utilize the one location theme extremely well are 12 Angry Men and Lifeboat. Though Elevator is not up to the level of those classic tales (How many movies are?), it is a suspense-filled experience that keeps you on edge until the very end.
Facts of the Case
It's a big night For Henry Barton (John Getz), attending a party in his honor with granddaughter Madeline (played by twins Amanda and Rachel Pace) in the building that bears his name. This "invitation only" party is also attended by Barton employees Don (Christopher Backus) and his fiancé Maureen (Tehmina Sunny), Celine (Anita Briem, Journey to the Center of the Earth), and Martin (Devin Retray). They are joined in the elevator by Barton investor Jane Redding (Shirley Knight, As Good as it Gets); George (Joey Slotnick, Twister), the comedian hired for the nights festivities; and Mohammed (Waleed Zuaiter, The Men Who Stare at Goats), a member of Barton's security team. As our partygoers make their way to the festivities, the elevator gets stuck on the 49th floor. To make matters worse, there is a bomb on said elevator, and it won't be long before it explodes.
One of the many nightmares that plague the dark recesses of my mind is the fear of being trapped in a small confined space with no way out. In Elevator, director Stig Svendsen uses camera angles to give us the initial impression that there's more than enough room for all nine passengers. However, once the elevator can't move, and it's discovered there's a bomb on board, Svendsen does a smart thing by tightening the interior shots, making the walls feel as if they are closing in. Hello, claustrophobia.
This is a crafty little film, far better than the cheesy DVD cover art would have you believe. The most notable actors are Shirley Knight and John Getz, familiar faces we've seen in many films, even if their names might escape us. Theses veterans provide a firm foundation for the rest of the cast. Getz plays financier Henry Barton, the quintessential greedy banker type. He's good in the role, even if it is a bit formulaic. Jane Redding comes off as a kindly old widow, and Knight does a great job showing the hidden rage behind those kindly eyes. Backus, Briem, and Ratray, play co-workers Dan, Celine, and Martin, all with their own selfish motives for attending the party. Although they appear honored to be riding up in the same elevator as the great Henry Barton, they also give the impression that working for him is not the wonderful experience they imagined it might be. Joey Slotnick and Waleed Zuiater offer up a little religious, as George is a Jew who immediately distrusts the Muslim Mohammed. But a bomb in an elevator can bring even these strange bedfellows together for a common good. The cast is rounded out by Dan's fiancée Maureen (Tehmina Sunny) who's performance as a CNN reporter is the most forgettable thing about the film.
What I like most about writer Marc Rosenberg's script is that it doesn't drag out the mystery of the bomber for too long by using red herrings or phony finger pointing to throw us off the scent. Soon after the elevator gets stuck, he reveals who the bomber is and why they decide to make such a public statement. The thrills are derived from the plight of the passengers, as they desperately try to find a way out. Rosenberg initially provides only a small amount of background on each character, which purposefully provides a false sense of who they truly are. But when time is at a premium, before the explosion is set to go off, we get a glimpse at the true nature of these people, and see just who the heroes are and who is hiding behind carefully crafted masks.
The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does of nice job of recreating the claustrophobic feel of an elevator's confined space. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix gives us dialogue that's crisp and easy to understand, even when the suspenseful score by composers Herman Christoffersen and Bjornar Johnsen kicks in. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and the film's theatrical trailer, but the trailer wouldn't play in my DVD player or on my laptop.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Back in the '80s the trend was that every nut burger with a grudge had to be a Vietnam Vet with PTSD. Today the inclination is to assign all the problems of the world to "evil, rich, banker bastards" that prey on the innocent and swindle them out of their life's savings. As with the Vietnam Vet, this cliché too has run its course. Fortunately, it's not heavy-handed enough to ruin a surprisingly good film.
Elevator is one of those under-the-radar films that's well worth the investment. There is a lot going on in the span of a few hours and it puts us right there in the middle of it all; trapped in tight quarters, breathing stale air, and praying for a way out before we're blown to smithereens.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Inception Media Group
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