First published by Little White Lies
Take the claustrophobic confines of an elevator’s interior, the straining tension of its supporting cable, and a scenario synchronised with a real-time countdown to destruction, and you approach the literally high concept of Stig Svendsen’s Elevator, in which nine disparate types find themselves trapped together inside a malfunctioning lift even as one of their number conceals a bomb primed to go off at any moment.
Cramming into a single, sweaty space a multi-millionaire investments executive (John Getz), his bratty granddaughter (played by Amanda & Rachel Pace), two ambitious underlings (Christopher Backus, Devin Ratray), a retired stakeholder with a heart condition (Shirley Knight), a reporter (Tehnina Sunny), a pregnant office worker (Anita Brien), an Iranian security guard (Waleed Zuaiter) and a neurotic Jewish comedian (Joey Slotnik), Elevator feels not unlike one of the oldschool jokes that this last-named passenger might tell in his unreconstructed stand-up act – although before any of them has even stepped into the lift, an impressionistic prologue shows the acquisition of a small but lethal explosive device, ensuring that all the film’s dark comedy is headed, whether up or down, to a story of deadly seriousness. And, as even the 1960s Batman knows, “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”
In fact, stuck-in-a-lift flicks form their very own subgenre, from the telemovie The Elevator (1974) through Abwärts (1984) and Blackout (2008) to Devil (2010). So while Elevator‘s relatively brief duration (84 minutes) and near unity of time and place keep its ensemble drama ticking over tautly, there remains the sense that it is just running through routines seen many times before. What is more interesting, however, is the way that it merges the suspense inherent in its set-up with tensions of a more contemporary geopolitical variety, ringing the changes on our post-millennial anxieties. If the bombmaking prologue, the title montage of the New York highrise, and the comedian’s immediate, prejudicial ‘joke’ reference to ‘Bin Laden’ from the moment he first meets the Middle-Eastern security guard, all point to the early Noughties’ obsession with 9/11 and al-Qaeda-style terrorism, then the focus of Elevator will gradually shift towards the aftermath of the 2007 Credit Crunch and a more general preoccupation with questionable corporate conduct.
Suspended on the 47th floor, this lift will stage an uneasily volatile collision of the higher-ups and lower-downs, all caught in the glare of a sensationalised, uncaring media. Which is to say that, clichés and all, Elevator is about us today, going down.
© Anton Bitel