M.L. Miller here! Welcome horror fans to my Annual countdown of the Best of the Best in Horror! Running every day through October, this list will culminate with the best horror film of the year announced on October 31st. Some of these films can be found in theaters—others have unfortunately only seen the light of day On Demand, DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films yourselves. I’ll also provide a “Worth Noting” secondary film suggestion in a separate post. These are films that stood out or just missed being on the list by a skosh—a little extra for those who can’t get enough horror.
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2018 and September 30, 2019 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. This countdown is not for the elitists or festival goers, so if the film hasn’t been released to the masses, it won’t be on the list. Also anything released this October will most likely be on next year’s list—so sorry, no films like DOCTOR SLEEP or ZOMBIELAND 2 just yet.
I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
#29 LEVEL 16
LEVEL 16 is a great overlooked fable that works on so many levels. It’s not particularly gory, but the tension and psychological horror is set to high. Filled with fantastic young actresses, LEVEL 16 was released in March of 2019. Here’s my review. Available On Demand, DVD/BluRay, and digital download!
LEVEL 16 (2018)
Directed by Danishka Esterhazy
Written by Danishka Esterhazy, Katharine Montagu (story editor), Ken Chubb (story consultant)
Starring Katie Douglas, Celina Martin, Sara Canning, Peter Outerbridge, Alexis Whelan, Amalia Williamson, Josette Halpert, Kiana Madeira, Kate Vickery, Alexa Rose Steele, Sydney Meyer, Joelle Farrow, Sarah DaSilva, Lori Phun, Vladimir Tsyglian, Val Ovtcharov, James Purcell, Kayleigh Shikanai, Yasmin Lau, Shanice Johnson, Sheila McCarthy
Playing out like a modern-day fable, LEVEL 16 is a powerful tale of oppression and terror.
Young Vivien (Katie Douglas) is one of many girls in a foster program which she believes to be teaching her to be a proper lady and grooming them to be adopted into a good family. The girls are kept in a locked facility with no windows and moved up to Level 16, the level where they are to graduate and enter into the real world. With the rest of the girls, she undergoes a regimented routine to keep them in line, following the rules, and taking care of their minds and bodies. But one of the girls, Sophia (Celina Martin), has suspicions about the program and begins refusing to follow the strict protocols which include taking a pill at the end of every day. When Sophia convinces Vivien to try it, the cracks in the system begin to show and they uncover a more devious plot going on.
I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s not going to be a spoiler to say that the system the girls are following and the graduation they all are looking for isn’t what it seems. LEVEL 16 strums a lot of the same chords as THE HANDMAID’S TALE as it both deals with an intended way of making women subservient and contained in society through heavy metaphor. Filmmaker Danishka Esterhazy does a fantastic job of sticking with the metaphor and relying on story to tell this smart tale rather than preaching what is right and wrong to the viewer. By doing this, the film relies on the viewer to be smart enough to piece it together and relate it to restrictions women struggle against in the real world. In a world I feel is becoming more literal by the minute, it is refreshing to see a film embrace the metaphor from beginning to end as it does in LEVEL 16.
The acting is superb here as the lead, Katie Douglas, carries much of the film with her stern face, poised demeanor, and gigantic hopeful eyes. She embodies strength and power in the beginning, but really shows a vulnerability as the plot unfolds, making her character a fascinating one to watch evolve. Though she is diminutive in size, Douglas, as Vivien is a powerhouse. Another standout in the cast is Miss Brixil (Sara Canning) the domineering housemother for the girls who does not allow them to look at her and is quick to punish those who step out of line. Canning does a fantastic job of displaying fragile leadership keeping a lid on an uncontrollable powder keg with these girls.
I haven’t really gotten into the horror aspect of LEVEL 16, but it’s prevalent throughout. Sure, this is relatively bloodless, but the scares are much more psychological with LEVEL 16. Once filmmaker Esterhazy deftly establishes the rules/restrictions of the film and Douglas is able to display a wonderful character to follow in Vivien, the thrills and chills come from every step into the unknown Vivien takes. The revelation as to the true purpose of these girls is extremely harrowing and the threat level at play intensifies to a deafening pitch by the end. LEVEL 16 is smarter than your average film. It makes never beats its message of empowerment into you, yet the film does hit like a hammer by the time the credits roll.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#29 – LEVEL 16
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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