Based on a story by John Steinbeck, Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944) was one of the first to confine a cast of people to one location and base its entire forward plot on dialogue only. Beyond the obvious, there is no “conflict” other than what is born from the characters’ exchanges. The more these stranded men and women converse, the more they unearth about themselves, and the more their true natures are revealed. 12 Angry Men would come along thirteen years later, mine that concept, and become one of the most famous and well-regarded “bunch of people confined to one place” films of all time. It is a tough job to craft such a concept – something based entirely on dialogue – but it’s come back in a big way the last ten years with varying success. Buried, with Ryan Reynolds, was mostly well received in the horror community, while Saw was an irritating heavy-handed morality tale. Lastly, we have Devil, a laughable tale of people trapped in an elevator with the prince of darkness himself.
And now we have Elevator, the newest film to try its hand at this one-location concept. More Lifeboat than Devil, a bunch of Wall Street workers find themselves prisoners of their malfunctioning elevator while on their way to an after-hours reception. Among them are Don and his news reporter girlfriend, Maureen; Celine, Don’s pregnant co-worker; Henry Barton, the president and CEO of the company, along with his granddaughter; George Axlerod, another employee as well as “comedian” of the night’s event; and Jane Redding, an investor. Through unfortunate happenstance, the elevator becomes trapped in between floors. And not soon after, it’s revealed that one of them has a bomb strapped to their chest.
And the games begin.
|"Mind if I irritate?"|
A concept like Elevator really relies solely on the story it’s telling. With cameras trapped along with our cast, what director Stig Svendsen can accomplish stylistically is severely limited. He has nothing to propel his film except the skeleton of the story, and his actors. While the performances are competent, and the story is engaging and never boring, once the “big reveal” is made, it never becomes thrilling or pulse pounding. It never gives you that “on the edge of your seat” moment when you can feel the danger our characters are in. With a bomb quite literally ticking down, what’s supposed to make the viewer more and more nervous never really gets past “sucks for them.”
Elevator really wants to be a condemnation on American culture. The problem is it doesn't know where to start, and when it finally does, it doesn’t go far enough. Early in the film, after the elevator comes to a dead halt, comedian George eyes Mohammed, the security specialist of the building, with great suspicion. Mohammed, after all, is Iranian, and to us ‘mericans, all Iranians = bad. But the problem with this subplot is that beyond just trying to make George look like a complete prick, the movie does nothing with it. There is no lesson learned. There is no redemption for Mohammad’s lineage or George’s close-minded point of view. There's no chance for Mohammed to prove himself in George's eyes, nor does George ever have to rely on Mohammed for anything that would alter his point of view. Besides being played for tension-breaking comedic effect, nothing ever comes of it. Nor does anything come from Maureen’s decision to stream the events occurring within their elevator car (she’s a reporter, remember), which to us seems completely inappropriate and offensive, but would most likely occur in real life. Though she, too, is facing certain death, she holds her phone at arm’s length. I suppose by film’s conclusion, when it appears that our characters are beyond salvation, Maureen realizes that she’s just as expendable as the folks she’s been filming both inside that elevator and outside it during her whole career, but again, not enough is done with it. She never has her moment where she finally feels what it's like to be on the other end of the camera. And let's face it, it’s hard enough to get one person to believably realize the error of their way during a film’s climax, but trying to force half-a-dozen people to do the same, while admirable, just doesn’t have the kind of pay-off the filmmakers are going for. Too much time is spent setting them all up, but none of them are ever brought to a satisfying conclusion.
Speaking of no pay-off, the not-so-shocking revelation that (spoiler) Don happens to be the father of Celine’s baby, is completely wasted within the events of the film. What should have been shocking enough to warrant at least a ten-minute diatribe between Don, Maureen, and Celine is literally over in seconds. Celine looks embarrassed, Maureen cries and looks horrified, and Don looks kind of guilty. But it’s so soon forgotten and never mentioned again that you wonder why the filmmakers bothered to include it. Maureen never says one nasty thing to Celine, nor does Celine ever attempt to apologize. It doesn’t create any tension. You could have removed that mini-twist and the rest of the film, as presented, would have gone on seamlessly.
The only real morality-tale weight comes from the twist that (again, spoiler), Jane Redding is the one who has the bomb strapped to her chest. For you see, it was after her husband received very poor investment advice from Henry Barton’s company and lost everything that he killed himself. And Jane has come to reap revenge upon the company that destroyed her life. It’s an interesting act of domestic terrorism inspired once again by American greed and selfishness. But it also has the subtlety of a nuclear explosion.
Elevator is a decent time waster. No one will ever call it their favorite film, but nor will they call it a terrible one. It’s vanilla ice cream. It’s white bread. You won’t regret having watched it, but it’s one you’ll wish had contained a little more zest.
Although someone does pee in a purse. So...there's that.