The plucky, rough-around-the-edges Canadian thriller Level 16 is a Black Mirror-lite story about teenage girls being trained in a creepy, militaristic sort of finishing school called the Vestalis Academy and located in a secret fortified bunker. The girls, about a dozen of them, spend every waking hour learning how to be “clean girls” — obedient, passive, etc. — in preparation for the exciting day when they will meet their “new families.” They never go outside, cannot read or write, and have limited knowledge of the world beyond what their instructors tell them.
One of the girls, Vivien (Katie Douglas), starts thinking there might be something wrong with this perfectly non-suspicious situation when she’s reunited with Sophia (Celina Martin), a girl she hasn’t seen since they were both back at Level 10. Sophia has learned some things about the Vestalis Academy and encourages Vivien to stop taking the pills they give everyone each day. Could there be more going on here than meets the eye?? (There could.)
This dystopian Handmaid’s Tale riff seems like it must be based on a YA novel, but it’s actually an original product from writer-director Danishka Esterhazy. She doesn’t let the low budget or the occasionally subpar acting from the supporting cast prevent her from telling an engaging sci-fi story that will particularly appeal to teenage girls who are trying to break out of their own confinements.
(Screened at Fantastic Fest.)