Level 16, obedience won’t save you

Katie Douglas and Celina Martin in Level 16

Level 16 is the last step before the girls in the boarding school where they’ve lived all their lives graduate to placements with good families. This independent Canadian drama is a mix of sci-fi and horror. Danishka Esterhazy wrote and directed the drama, which you can see on Netflix.

Level 16 takes place inside the dim corridors and rooms of a building that looks and feels like a jail.

Sara Canning, Katie Douglas, Kate Vickery, Celina Martin, and Alexis Whelan in Level 16
Eyes Down!

Miss Brixil (Sara Canning) trains the girl to be clean, obedient, submissive, and good so that some wonderful family will adopt them someday. They must take their vitamins daily and sleep when told to. Their lives are regimented and repetitive. They watch films about feminine virtues and aren’t taught to read or do anything useful.

Any girl who isn’t obedient is taken downstairs to be punished. These girls are not seen again.

I’m sure any decent sci-fi aficionado will realize this situation isn’t what it seems. But the girls don’t see that. They drink the Kool Aid. They are sheeplike followers of a demanding and crazed authority figure – they never question, never doubt the message.

Except for Sophia (Celina Martin) and Vivien (Katie Douglas). Sophia stopped taking the vitamins years ago and sees a lot of things that the others don’t. She convinces Vivien to stop taking the pills, too. Soon the two of them are trying to find a way to get away.

Peter Outerbridge in Level 16
Let me give you a vaccine with this giant syringe that looks like it came from Dr. Strangelove

Life in Level 16 is a bit different for the girls. They take different vitamins. They see Dr. Miro (Peter Outerbridge) for shots and treatments. Sophia and Vivien stay awake during the sleep times because they aren’t taking their vitamins. They see what happens to the sleeping girls. They uncover the truth about what becomes of the girls who graduate.

Katie Douglas in Level 16
Imma ruin my face! So there! (Umm, shouldn’t those cuts bleed?)

The escape attempt that Vivien and Sophia make is dangerous and ratchets up the tension in this already suspenseful drama.

This film was constrained by its low budget, but it managed to be compelling. The reveal at the end wasn’t entirely surprising, nor were the final moments. Even so, the thematic material about the value placed on girls was scathing. The film roundly condemned the patriarchal standards of beauty that men demand of women.

I read numerous comments saying that some other sci-fi film already told this story in a better way. I wasn’t bothered by the resemblance to other dystopian tales. (The film reminded me most of Never Let Me Go.) It stands on its own merits as an original that lovers of dystopian sci-fi will be interested in.

Poster for Level 16

Here’s a look at the trailer.

If you take a look at this film, please share what you thought of it in the comments below.

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