Film Review: LEVEL 16 (Canada 2018) ***1/2

Level 16 Poster
Sixteen-year-old Vivien is trapped in The Vestalis Academy, a prison-like boarding school, keeping to herself and sticking her neck out for no one. Until she is reunited with Sophia — the …See full summary »

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.



Film Review: PRODIGALS (Canada 2018) *** Directed by Michelle Ouellet

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Prodigals Poster
When a young man returns to his hometown to assist with a friend’s trial it soon becomes clear that he isn’t the beacon of success that everyone thought he was.


Michelle Ouellet


As Canadian as it gets, a big city dreamer, Wesley (David Alpay from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES) returns home to the small Ontarian town of Sault-Saint Marie from Toronto to testify for an old friend on trial for murder.   The script by Sean Minogue and Nicholas Carell based on the stage 2011 play by Minogue ups the angst by making it clear that Wesley is not a lawyer that everyone in the town thinks he is.  The old friend on trial is quite the asshole.

  In Sault-Saint Marie, Wesley struggles between an urge to reignite his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Jen (Sara Canning) and his friends’ expectations for him to save the trial.  Despite Wesley’s good intentions, he often comes across as quite the jerk.

Jen initially treats him with disdain, blaming him for leaving him behind.  But, as stories like this goes, they rekindle the times they have had with a good old fashioned roll in the hay.  But Jen (fortunately) has learnt her lesson and would not dream of letting Wesley get the upper hand again.  complications also arise as she is also going steady with another man, commonly known as Nips.

Director Ouellet captures the atmosphere of small town, Ontario complete with run down strip malls, dodgy pubs and moody skies.  It is winter or at least close to it as snow and ice can be observed on the ground.  The town is claustrophobic and there is no where to escape from the old friends Wesley has.  The story is told from Wesley’s point of view.  It is a film about twenty-somethings,

PRODIGALS contains a simple story of a man still trying to grow up and gain respect of his friends.  There is not much where the story can go.  Given the story’s limitations, Oulleet keeps his film always on track, trying to keep the audience’s attention.  It helps too that the lead actor Alpay, good looking and charismatic despite his character’s faults.  Caning and Alpay show off good chemistry as a couple.

The film contains a lot of confrontation scenes which reminds the audience that the film is based on a play.  But Ouellet, at least, puts these confrontation scenes in different settings.

As dramatic adapted plays go, PRODIGALS is a film where drama, acting and atmosphere are most important with crowd pleasing entertainment kept within limit.  PRODIGALS ends up a successful  realistic youth drama with real small town issues that sometimes cannot be solved.  Such is life!


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