Monday, June 3, 2024

Going Up

You have to respect a movie title that tells it like it is.

Quick Plot: A gala for an investment group is starting on the 52nd floor of the Barton Building. Security is tight...ish. You need identification to access the elevator, but once you're in, good luck making it to the top. The interior security guard has a dead walkie talkie, the building crew is grumpier than me if I skip lunch, and the mechanics of the actual lift simply don't work well.

Nine enter. Maureen, a journalist, and her finance bro fiance Don. Celine, the 9-month pregnant bonds expert who eyes Don with a twinkle. Martin, a nervously sweaty mid-level adviser. George, a comedian tapped at the last minute to open the event with dated jokes. Muhammed, the security guard and veteran EMT. Twitchy Ohioan investor Jane. And finally, the big man of the hour himself, billionaire Henry Barton and his gloriously bratty granddaughter Madeline. 

Yes, that is too many people in one elevator heading up to an exclusive party.

Tensions immediately stir. George quickly proves himself to be as racist as he is claustrophobic. Jane has clear beef with Henry. Don is doing everything he can to avoid eye contact with Celine. And the miserable Madeline can't resist pulling the emergency break.

In most situations like this, you'd expect a tense but fairly quick maintenance call in order to get the guest of honor up to his shindig in time for the main course. But considering we'll soon learn that Barton Investments makes a good deal of its profit in junk bonds, perhaps we can also assume that they don't pay top dollar for good facility coverage. 

The clock ticks away as everyone gets sweatier, none more so than Jane. As she begins to suffer some kind of heart attack or stroke, she uses her dying words to warn her neighbors of something far worse than George's comedy: she's armed with a bomb. 

I've never seen a great movie set in an elevator, so my expectations for a movie all-out TITLED Elevator didn't pack a lot of promise. But by golly, I had a great time here...for a while. 

Directed by Stig Svendsen, Elevator is clearly not an expensive movie. Did I mention 85% of it takes place inside the titular Elevator? There's an awkwardness about the very setup (not to agree with the racist comedian, but that IS too many people in one elevator) and a general sense of "that's not how things work" about some of the basic interactions. These people seem to have great cell service, yet no one thinks to escalate their phone calls until they've been stuck with no contact for 20 minute? One of the country's wealthiest man is trapped inside a skyscraper's elevator on the night of a party celebrating his very existence, yet security doesn't think to give him a little extra attention? 

You catch my drift. And yet, I was fully forgiving of Elevator's ridiculousness for 2/3rds of its running time because it really grew on me. The cast of character actors, some more known than others, all were giving their best and working to create actual human beings with just enough individual backstories to raise the stakes (Devin Ratray in particular creates a whole lot out of what could have been a human punchline). There was clearly some interest in exploring the horrors of capitalism in Marc Rosenberg's script, but the film just seems to run out of steam in its final act. We get a little violence, some action, a bit of tragedy, and a muted coda that feels like the battery inside the camera is dying. 

On one hand, I think Elevator's ending (which I won't spoil) has things to say with its very unspectacular style. On the other, it's pretty darn unsatisfying. 

High Points
Elevator was made in 2011, which was a different time in terms of "being trapped in an elevator with people of different political persuasions than you." I say that first in order to give some context for what I'm saying next: there's a very rewarding shift in who's right and wrong throughout Elevator. Joey Slotnick's George is an awful bigot, but watching him also reveal human layers that tend to make more sense than some of the people around him is surprisingly complex. There's good character work being done here.

Low Points
I said it with Down, and I'll say it here: there's a special place in Emily's version of hell for a movie that traps a pregnant woman in an elevator only to NOT have her go into labor, and SPOILER ALERT, Elevator joins that club

Lessons Learned
A fake bomb is supposed to be seen, not hidden

Opening for Andrew Dice Clay doesn't necessarily make you not stupid

When attending a cocktail party in your third trimester, always accessorize with a purse large enough to hold your bladder

Is Elevator the best genre film I've seen set almost entirely in an elevator? Yes. Have I seen many good genre films set almost entirely in elevators? No. I had a good time with this movie, so while I was disappointed in how it wrapped up, I still think there's a lot to enjoy. Find it on Amazon Prime. 


  1. I was mostly annoyed by this one... the setup, the contrived lack of rescue, the characters, the blah ending.
    The jackass comedian was the most interesting bit of it.
    Also, I was hoping for a more downbeat ending... maybe save the brave pregnant lady, but oh well.

    1. I don't disagree. I think I've just seen so many terrible elevator thrillers in a short timespan that this still feels like the best of them!