LEVEL 16, basically a young lady’s prison escape thriller evokes immediately the atmosphere of THE HANDMAID’S TALE and the little seen Irish supposedly true story of nuns’ abusive training in Peter Mulan’s THE MAGDALENE SISTERS – which is a good thing. These three films bring out good solid drama where the audience cares for the innocent but abused characters. Even though the final escape seems so easy (in THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, ironically the escape is through an unlocked door), it is the build up that counts. And the terror of the frequent punishment that comes with disobedience.
16 refers to both the current age of the film’s protagonist, Vivien (Katie Douglas) as well as the new Level – LEVEL 16 of Viv’s education. It is a walled in concrete world with no windows and no pictures in what is known to the girls, all pretty young things as the Vesralis Boarding School where the young girls are educated for adoption by wealthy parents. or so they are told by their teachers, who are too strict for comfort. They are also told their adoptive parents sponsor the school and they only wait for their adoption after completion,
The first half of the film reveals the daily regimental routines. The girl believe the school is a refuge from an outside world rendered toxic. But the school is a neglected, antiseptic institution where girls without families are monitored, their day scheduled practically to the minute, and “education” consists of a constantly repeated list of “feminine virtues” – obedience, cleanliness, patience and humility – preached by a matriarch and propagandized in moral-hygiene films. Among the activities are vitamins the girls are taking daily with a voice telling them that vitamins are good for the body and that they prevent disease.
An incident occurs. Viv is taken away for punishment because of an accident committed by Sophie (Celina Martin). On LEVEL 16, Sophie informs Viv, out of guilt, a secret. The vitamins that they are taking daily are not vitamins but sleeping drugs which knock them out to sleep. Worse, Sophie who has not taken the drug for while, has witnessed a guard who comes in the middle of the night to touch the girls. This is where the film gets interesting.
The two villains of the piece are equally chilling There is the matriarch of the place, white wig donning no-nonsense warden like bitch, Miss Brixil (Sara Canning). This role seems right tailored for Tilda Swinton to play. The other is the doctor that owns the place, (Peter Outerbridge) a creepy elderly man who one can tell has the urges to touch his girl victims.
If the climax does not match the build up, the film still is a success rather than a disappointment as the build-up is pretty good. The script reveals just enough to satisfy the audience and to keep the suspense maintained. It is this mystery and audience anticipation that makes this tale stand out.