Director: Vincenzo Natali
Writers: Vincenzo Natali and Karen Walton
Note: The short film that is being critiqued within this review can been seen in its entirety (and for free) at the end of the page.
is a science fiction thriller directed by Vincenzo Natali, whose two other science fiction thrillers – Cube
(1997) and Cypher
(2002) – demonstrate that not only is he very adept at the said subgenre, but he’s quite possibly the best director currently working within it.
In addition, Natali is very much an auteur. All of his films, including his sci-fi comedy Nothing
(2003), focus upon similar themes and issues such as justifiable paranoia, corporate distrust, social distrust, dehumanization of people, dependency on technology, and the credulousness of the populace – all very Orwellian ideas.
Even though Elevated is a short film only nineteen minutes in length, as well as Natali’s first cinematic work ever, all these themes are still very much present – not just present but forcefully and vigorously conveyed.
Though I describe only the first four minutes of the plot, the film is best enjoyed by knowing as little about it as possible. Therefore, to attain the film’s greatest impact, skip over the next two paragraphs…
*Warning: Minor Spoilers Follow*
The film opens up innocently enough with a quiet, petite tenant named Ellen (Vicki Papavs) entering an elevator. She is reading a paper as she presses the appropriate button on the panel for the basement level. The elevator begins to descend but after a few floors it stops to allow another person to get on – a tall, gruff looking man named Ben (Bruce McFee). As the elevator continues to descend, Ben begins to make a rather ominous heavy breathing sound that unnerves Ellen. Her hand shaking out of fear, she presses the button for the next floor. The elevator stops, the doors open, but the hallway outside is even more dark and foreboding than Ben’s heavy breathing. She hesitates, but just as she is about to let the doors close a man yells at them to hold the elevator. Welcoming additional company, she extends her hand out to prevent the doors from closing.
Hank (David Hewlett) – a security guard – bursts into the elevator, quickly overrides it’s descent with his access card, and presses the button for the roof. Both Ellen and Ben begin to protest this change in direction, but are silenced as soon as Hank turns around – his shirt is covered in blood. “It’s not mine,” he says, as if that is to comfort them. However, what makes them all the more nervous is his reasoning for his disturbing appearance and disruptive actions – he claims that there are “monsters” just outside of the elevator and that they have just killed someone. Paranoia is now growing within Ben and Ellen’s minds – is he crazy or are the creatures real?
*End of spoilers*
To say anymore of the plot would be inexcusable – perhaps I even said too much already. Even though I only described what happens within the first four minutes, that is a significant portion of the film when one considers that it’s only nineteen minutes in length. Indeed, the film is best enjoyed when knowing absolutely nothing about it.
That characteristic points to the film’s greatest attribute – the plot structure.
The plot was co-written by Vincenzo Natali along with Karen Walton, who went on to write the satirical horror film Ginger Snaps (2000) – it is certainly the collaboration between the creative capabilities of these two writers that made the script as ingenious as it is.
The script is structured within the “slow reveal” framework – that is to say, information is given to the viewer at a very slow yet deliberate rate. However, that is not to say there are extended periods of time where we don’t learn anything – it is actually the opposite.
Instead of large chunks of information being given out at lengthy intervals (as modern films often seem to be doing lately vis à vis relying too much on a “mega twist” ending – courtesy of M. Night Shyamalan’s influence), the viewer is constantly and consistently given small pieces of information in order that their interest is continually piqued. In this way, nothing is ever spelled out all at once – they are only given part of the word, part of the sentence, or part of the whole story. It is only at the end, when we have assembled enough pieces of information, that the viewer begins to decipher what truly is happening (and we also avoid those endings that are back-loaded with information, which often causes the viewer to be overwhelmed).
Such is the case for Elevated, whose slow revelations of the plot – what is happening both inside and outside the elevator – as well as characters themselves – are the characters really who they appear to be – is what makes the film so engrossing and captivating.
In addition to the “slow reveal” technique, the plot is very much resourceful in utilizing its environment to the fullest capacity. From the emergency phone to escape hatch and from the doors to the very wires behind the control panel, every nook and cranny of that elevator is utilized in some fashion.
Characters are also well-drawn and believable, and even they are given the “slow reveal” treatment – we perceive a character as being one way, but as more and more details are revealed throughout the film, we find that they are not quite what we expected them as being.
However, no matter how well-written a script may be, it is still at the mercy of the acting for it come to life and be effective. Fortunately, the acting here is very much solid, with David Hewlett as the “slightly” eccentric Hank certainly being the highlight of the cast.
On an aside, it is of interest to note that Hewlett actually graduated from the same high school as Vincenzo Natali, and that Hewlett has since appeared in every film Natali has directed. It is quite understandable why Natali would utilize the man’s talents so often – his performance here is absolutely enjoyable yet also totally convincing and unnerving.
What amazes me the most, however, is not the plot, the characters, or the acting, but rather the mere fact that such a short film can incorporate so much subtext. As already mentioned, the film demonstrates the seminal ideas of Natali’s work – our natural distrust for one another (is Hank sane or insane?), our devaluation of one another (they’re willing to hurt one another solely for their own benefit), our over dependence upon technology (the elevator literally holds their lives in its grasp), how class is only a social construct with no real meaning (three different classes yet all in the same situation), and so on and so forth.
Unfortunately, to more fully analyze these themes would require me to spoil much – if not all – of the plot. Therefore, I shall resist temptation and refrain from delving into a thorough analysis in order that you may be spared the sheer enjoyment of the film’s plot. But I will say this – the film’s main theme seems to be how we revert to a primitive state of existence when we’re faced with a life threatening scenario (a theme that is often explored within apocalyptic, disaster, and even zombie films).
Now for the faults – I feel like something is amiss, yet I can not definitely find what. Perhaps I could say the film is too short, but that is probably a compliment more than anything – it is better to leave your audience wanting more than wishing they have gotten less. In addition, I could perhaps complain that the ending is ambiguous and offers no solid answers to our questions, but again I believe that is more of a compliment – better to think your audience is intelligent and let them decipher it on their own rather than to think them as dumb and spell everything out.
However, though I am at a lost as to what faults this film possesses, I still don’t feel like it is a perfect film. What is holding me back from that assessment? I honestly don’t know. Perhaps it’s my own biases – perhaps the film isn’t “arty” enough for my sensibilities; perhaps I would have preferred even more subtext than what was present; or perhaps I would have preferred an even more unique vision and style from the director.
If anything, I am being too hard on the film – it was, after all, made on a minuscule budget and was the cinematic debut of a young and inexperienced filmmaker. When considering those factors, the film is unquestionably a brilliant achievement. However, to be unnecessarily and needlessly harsh, perhaps I find the film to be mainly just an exercise in genre filmmaking – it does indeed have somewhat high aspirations with its apparent subtext, but the film’s main focus was certainly only to tell a story and tell it effectively. I am being too nitpicky – I admit it – but I felt that I really needed to express my reservations as to why I could not give it my highest rating. Something was keeping it from that greatest praise, but I am hard-pressed to pinpoint what exactly.
Though make no mistake about it – I loved this movie. It’s one of my favorite shorts. I return to it often. I am constantly showing it to friends. It’s a joy to behold, pure and simple. So many good words describe it – suspenseful, tense, frightening, funny, clever, witty, intelligent, thoughtful – any film that embodies all those words into one cohesive whole is a must-see in my book.
There’s just something holding it back from perfection… What? I’m not quite sure…
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Full Short Film: