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Danishka Esterhazy
Katie Douglas, Celina Martin, Sara Canning
Writing Credits:
Danishka Esterhazy

In a highly regimented boarding school, a pair of students discover that things are not as they seem.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English PCM 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 4/30/2019

• “Making of” Featurette
• Cast/Crew Interviews
• Trailer and Previews


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Level 16 [Blu-Ray] (2018)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 13, 2019)

Kind of a “Young Adult” take on The Handmaid’s Tale, 2018’s Level 16 takes us to Vestalis Academy. This boarding school acts as a refuge for orphans.

Superficially, at least. In reality, Vestalis functions more like a prison for the teenaged girls who live there.

At Vestalis, the “teachers” groom the girls for eventual adoption, though that doesn’t act as the happy ending the kids would like. Confronted with the brutal nature of the facility, teens Vivien (Katie Douglas) and Sophia (Celina Martin) attempt to discover the hidden secret behind Vestalis and also escape.

After I watched Level 16, I took a look at the filmography of writer/director Danishka Esterhazy. I fully expected to learn that 16 acted as the first feature by a young filmmaker.

Nope. Esterhazy turns 50 this year, and she’s created movies – shorts and features – since 2002.

I hope this doesn’t sound cruel, but this information surprised me because 16 seems like the product of an inexperienced filmmaker. Awkward and amateurish, it lacks the self-confidence I’d expect of someone with Esterhazy’s level of experience.

Though I can’t blame Esterhazy entirely, as the actors fail to demonstrate much polish. They tend to overplay their parts and they never bring out much personality or impact as they limp through the tale.

Nonetheless, the blame for this relentlessly dull film lays at Esterhazy’s feet, as even a stronger group of performers couldn’t redeem 16. The story feels more like an idea for a movie than an actual fleshed-out narrative, and nothing ever manages to progress in a compelling way.

It doesn’t help that 16 launches from a head-scratching concept – at least from the audience POV. We’re supposed to accept that an “academy” gets girls and infants and grooms them for 16 years before they get adopted.

How does this make sense? I can understand that the brainwashed girls would accept this notion, but for the movie to work, the viewers need to swallow the premise as well, and that seems like a stretch.

No sane situation would make kids wait until they turn 16 to adopt them. This means that from minute one, we understand something more nefarious will occur, and the believability factor goes out the window.

I might accept the silliness more if something interesting occurred along the way. Unfortunately, 16 can’t function as more than a sluggish tale based on a mediocre concept.

We’re stuck with bland characters who develop in only the most rudimentary ways. We follow some predictable plot points that fail to manifest anything especially interesting or intriguing.

Add the generally amateurish feel of most aspects of the film and Level 16 fizzles. This feels more like a rough draft for a movie than a finished product.

The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

Level 16 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a surprisingly mediocre image.

Definition was acceptable but somewhat flat. This meant the movie demonstrated perfectly decent accuracy but the image could seem a little on the tentative side.

No signs of jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws also remained absent.

In terms of palette, 16 opted for a heavily blue tint. These colors tended to feel heavy and dense, without great clarity.

Blacks seemed too thick and crushed, and low-light shots veered toward the mushy side of the street. Though this wasn’t a bad presentation, it looked pretty lackluster.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it seemed competent but lackluster. The soundfield remained tame and failed to add much to the experience.

This meant the film’s subdued score used the various channels in a reasonable manner, but effects lacked a lot of room for involvement. The movie emphasized gentle atmosphere and little else, so this became a subdued mix.

Audio quality was fine, with speech that seemed natural and concise. Music didn’t jump out of the speakers, but the score showed appropriate range and dimensionality.

As noted, effects failed to add much to the experience, but they remained clear and accurate within their laid-back confines. This seemed like a pretty mediocre soundtrack.

When we look at the set’s extras, a Making of featurette goes for five minutes, two seconds. It includes comments from production designer Diana Magnus, producer Judy Holm, executive producer James Weyman, and actors Sara Canning, Katie Douglas, Celina Martin, and Peter Outerbridge.

“Making” examines story/characters, cast and performances and themes. A few decent notes emerge but this remains a pretty mediocre reel.

We also get Cast/Crew Interviews. These fill a total of one hour, 49 minutes, 57 seconds and involve Douglas (10:48), Martin (12:40), Canning (9:23), Outerbridge (10:27), actors Alexa Rose Steele, Alexis Whelan, Sydney Meyer, Kiana Madeira, Kate Vickery, Joelle Farrow, Josette Halpert and Amalia Williamson (4:58), writer/director Danishka Esterhazy (30:53), Magnus (16:02), costume designer Jenn Stroud (3:08), Holm (6:28) and Weyman (5:10).

Across these, we learn about story, characters and themes, cast and performances, sets and locations, production design and costumes, and other filmmaking domains.

Unsurprisingly, quality varies from interview to interview. The longest of the bunch, Esterhazy’s chat fares best, as she gets into a bunch of good insights. Magnus and Stroud also deliver some useful notes about their work.

Also unsurprisingly, the actors’ comments tend to work the worst, as they lean toward superficial remarks much of the time. Still, none of the reels flop, and they add enough to make this a good collection of thoughts.

The disc opens with ads for Mega Time Squad, Black As Sin, The Dark and White Chamber. We also get a trailer for 16.

Half-baked and amateurish, Level 16 lacks dramatic impact. The movie fails to develop a workable premise and it feels like an unfinished idea more than a complete film. The Blu-ray brings mediocre picture and audio along with a long collection of generally informative interviews. Level 16 becomes a slow journey to nowhere.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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