A couple of weeks ago (months+/-? Sorry!) Sarah brought us the recommendation of Level 16. I watched it almost immediately, took copious notes on the ins and outs of what happened. And then promptly forgot about it. Sometimes that happens as my workflow abilities are paltry at best. But in dusting off my backlog of movies to talk to you guys about, this one jumped out to me. “Level 16…uh!? That seems familiar? Maybe? Notes? Where are my notes dangit!?” Yeah, I’m not the right guy to be staying on top of the mechanics of keeping a site running…especially all by myself. Bah. But it is what it is. (And need I remind you? We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of my first movie review on this site? And we are celebrating by doing a big Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament. Join in!!)
All that to say – Level 16 is basically a closed box, Handmaid’s Tale, of sorts. Or maybe an Indie Cure for Wellness with a more sordid twist of an ending? It tells the story of a group of girls who are trapped in a school-like prison of a boarding school that they are never allowed to leave.
Why are they there? Why have they been there their entire lives? What else is going on at this boarding school? And what ulterior motives are nefariously making plans for the girls and their futures? And that is the curious story that is Level 16.
Skip this trailer if you trust me even one, single, iota.
Level 16 Movie Mechanics
Before we properly get started talking through the events of the movie, I have to stop and say that the mechanics of the film bothered me more than anything else throughout the film. I was perpetually grappling with the floors, and the girls, and the various shifts, and the hours in the day. I couldn’t figure it out. But eventually (not soon enough for my liking) the movie gave us just enough to sort it all out.
The levels are for the ages of the girls. Level 16 being for the 16-year-olds. And within each level are three groups. Group 1, 2, and 3. Each group is awake for 7 hours a day, and are drugged to sleep for the next 17. And if maths are your thing, then you’ll know that that gives three hours while all three groups are sleeping simultaneously. Though I couldn’t figure out if that just meant an hour between each group waking – for buffer – or whether they were three hours stacked at one time.
And we also know that at one time the girls were drugged to sleep perpetually. Only relatively recently did they come out of their hibernation for “schooling.” Which, after the reveal of the movie is had, it is understood why that argument was being held at all. Alright, with that minor annoyance set aside, we can move on. I feel better already.
Level 16 Movie Walkthrough
We start the movie with girls living, learning, eating, on a single floor of a Brutalist designed living quarters. For all we know, they could all be hurtling through outer space. And I have to admit that that was my original theory as the movie started. There is no way these girls are on earth. (So that was the first time I’ve ever been wrong.)
And we see that Vivien, our trapped hero, is reunited with Sophia after being separated a level or two. Sophia, who happened to be Vivien’s best friend in years past, eventually betrayed her, and caused a rift in their friendship. But once reunited, the two girls begin searching to uncover what is really going on here at the Vestalis Academy. There are lots of pills. Extremely rigid strictures that define their 7 hour wake times. They are encouraged to lotion regularly, and take vitamins, and care for themselves immaculately. They even have couples coming and looking at the girls for some odd reason? And eventually, Vivian steals a security card and looks out at the moon, but doesn’t have the courage to make a run for it. And on her way back, Rita, who was going to be “punished” is taken, and when she is discovered by Vivian, it looks as though she’s been skinned?
When Vivian, soon after, heads down and discovers that she is actually living in the “Vestallis Clinic” she notices that it is a skin treatment center of sorts. And when she discovers what is really going on, that the air outside really isn’t poisonous, that they all have to run as quickly as possible. Eventually they are able to get the girls to run for it, wholesale, after murdering one of the guards who had been abusing the girls as they slept. (Sorry, that was annoyingly convenient. We have to give the girls a moral reason to murder this guard – OTHER THAN the fact that he has been helping hold them captive their entire lives! But whatever.)
When the doctor arrives to try and reel Vivian and the girls back in, he monologues about how he had saved her from poverty, and from parents who would willingly sell her. She was given food, safety, and protection from the world. And he appeals to Vivian to assist him in getting all of the lost girls back. “You are not like the other girls.” “No, you are wrong, I am just like them.” And then the doctor says, “I’ve invested 16 years in that face, I’m not leaving without it.” But then Vivian slices her face, and in effect, ruining the market value of her skin. And as the movie ends, the doctor is carted off by two men that represent the investors. Or something. I lost track. Did I mention it’s been a long time since I watched this film?
Movie Level 16 Ending Explained
But what was all the fuss about? What was the Vestallis Clinic all about? If you missed that bit…I apologize. But they tried to make it abundantly clear by the girls that were found skinned. As well as the seams of scars on the woman’s neck that purchased the Vestallis treatment. That was where the girl’s skin had been cut, and then stitched on the new customer. Vestallis’ cutting edge (hahahaha) new technology was basically just a Hannibal Lecter style murder/filleting. And all the trappings of schooling were just to appease the conscious girls and give them something to do between lotionings. They are only awake a handful of hours after all. And there was talk of dropping them back into a 24/7 sleep state. I mean, they were only being kept alive for their skin after all.
Obviously the movie is saying something about the brutality of the cosmetics industry…I think. They are waxing eloquent on the horrifying consequences of the incessant drive towards perfection. Perfect skin that drives concentration camp type experiences. It’s basically a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale. You know, the witch, and her fear of growing old and dying alone, and ugly. That one? The one where she plots to gut Snow White and bottle her essence into a potion in order to stay the most beautiful woman in the world as long as possible. It’s a story as old as time.
But here I have to cry foul. Let’s set aside the annoying morality bits within this story. The murder and the abduction. And talk specifically about Vestallis’ product. The ability to have the skin of a younger (level 16) woman. Did you notice the scars involved with wearing someone else’s skin? There were lines here and there, but most pronounced were on the neck. Yikes! I’m sorry, but from a startup standpoint, wouldn’t you be trying to master the no-cut, ACME skin removal system? I mean, consider the customer here people! OK, I merely jest. But I do know the seams were used as a plot device to communicate what was happening to the girls without overtly communicating it directly. And yet, that isn’t a product anyone would buy. No?! Murder or no!
What did you think of the movie?
Edited by: CY