Monday, May 3, 2010

Take the Stairs! Take the Stairs! For Goodness Sake, Take the Stairs!

don’t care if you’re Charles Bronson or Jack Bauer: anybody who has ever stepped into a suspiciously aged elevator with an inspection notice older than Dakota Fanning has inevitably released a gasp of mild to spicy apprehension. Then probably glanced towards the stairs, made a slight shrug, and opted to risk claustrophobic hell over upward climbing anyway.
There’s a reason 89% of sitcoms have forced a character into labor inside an unreliable lift. It’s instant drama because you know what? Elevators have more horror potential than a sexually aggressive circus clown.
Blackout, a 2007 film with a sole theatrical release in Russia, is all about cashing in on the easy scares. Broken lift, asthma, rapist, and July heat? Wait, you mean there’s no tarantula nest in the call box or pregnant lady camouflaged in the wall?
Quick Plot: 
It’s a holiday weekend in an old and inexplicably gigantic apartment building where all but three residents have left town. Naturally, this mismatched trio--Tommy (Armie Hammer), a tattooed twentysomething on a motorcycle, Claudia (Amber Tamblyn), a college student trying to complete her dying grandmother’s last request, and a widowed doctor named Karl (The Wire’s Aiden Gillen) trying to clean up his bachelor pad before the arrival of his daughter--hops into the elevator at just the right moment for a quick and titular blackout.

Much like the first Saw, Blackout probably generates the most curiosity for its No Exit-like premise, but just like that Lions Gate juggernaut, this thriller spends equal amounts of time in dull flashback mode.
And hey, while we’re playing catch with 21st century references, let’s further compare Blackout to another flashback-of-mixed-entertainment value narrative, Lost. The recent pasts of our three leads provide low to middling levels of excitement I’ll explain more after a mild SPOILER ALERT...

Although once again, the Netflix description beat me to the warning. Tamblyn’s Claudia is a sympathetic, if typical good girl without much in the way of personal or past conflict (save for a plot convenience case of asthma). Hammer’s protective boyfriend is nicer than you’d expect but duller than we deserve. The film primarily wants us to fear Gillen’s mysterious misogynist, a man who quickly reveals himself to be a twisted murderer with a messy sexual kink. While the idea that such a normal looking professional living next door could be so terrible is interesting, Gillen’s squirmy presence is more icky than terrifying. 

High Points
Some fancy, albeit CGI heavy camera tricks through the elevator shaft create a neat look at what our characters are up against

Low Points
Hints of early tension pop up when we see Claudia casually hoarding water and food, but director Rigoberto Castaneda never really develops this character ambiguity, focusing instead on the poor sweet orphan’s goody goodness and shifting all the villainy to Gillen’s smarmy rapist.

Speaking of rape, what could be a disturbing scene of sexual abuse is hampered by one of the least threatening rapist lines ever uttered: “Can you feel me now?”

No rape scene should be a reminder of bad cell phone service
Lessons Learned
Graveyards are a great place to play Marco Polo
When stuck in a stressful situation with limited airflow, Vegas odds are 1000-1 that one of your companions will be asthmatic

Even in the world of the Internets*, people still run away
Stuff just happens randomly (seriously, that’s the blatant theme of the movie as summarized in the final scene)
People who smoke are very mean
If you liked this movie, you may also enjoy Precious: Based on the Novel Push By Sapphire*

I’m being awfully hard on Blackout, in part because it’s an utterly average film but also, much like Tooth and Nail , one that begins with such a promising premise. For an Instant Watch, it’s not the total waste of 85 minutes. However, as of May 1st, it’s no longer on Instant Watch. I can’t imagine your life being enriched by sitting down for a viewing, but there are certainly worse ways to pass the time. For all its plot contrivance, Blackout is solid enough and not without intrigue. It doesn’t really capitalize on what it offers, but any film primarily set in an elevator that resists the urge to include a pregnant woman gets a few automatic points by my admittedly easy ranking scale.
*Why didn’t spellcheck detect that ‘Internets’ is not a word?
**Courtesy of IMDB


  1. I'm sorry you watched Tooth and Nail.I spent 3 years in a mental asylum because of that film

  2. I saw this a while back also but I could have sworn it was called something else. It was okay. I didn't have strong feelings either way about it.

  3. Jaded: I didn't hate Tooth and Nail, but the fact that every character in that film had less brains than the lone human at a zombie buffet irked me to no end.

    Kangas: In Japan, it's known as "Panic Elevator," so perhaps you visited Japan recently and watched a mediocre thriller?

  4. Along with the Descent, this sounds like a clausterphobes worst nightmare.

  5. It should've been, but sadly the film isn't quite good enough to get there.

  6. I reviewed this for Paracinema some time back and thought it pretty much sucked massive elevator shaft. Actually, it wasn't quite that bad, I just wanted to use the joke!

    It was an overall well made film, but the flashbacks were poorly crafted and they took away from any tension that might have been built up from being trapped in an elevator. If you trap your characters somewhere, the last thing you want to do is take them out, even for flashbacks. I did like Tamblyn in it though.

    I wouldn't suggest anyone wast their time watching it, but it's not completely awful. Just a tad boring and a bit of a lame duck.

  7. Agreed Matt. Very "Instant Watch" to me, but now it's not on there anymore so I feel like it will sit trapped in the abandoned elevator shaft of DVD shelves until it returns.