Down (2001)

Recently I covered the Dutch horror flick, The Lift about a killer elevator. The film was made in 1983 and in 2001 director Dick Maas had the opportunity to remake his hit in the U.S. with a bigger budget, set in New York. Why have you never heard of this flick before? Well, it premiered right before 9/11 in Holland and was quickly pulled from theaters there. Here in the states the movie was shelved for a few years and then unceremoniously dumped onto dvd.  The idea of a killer elevator in New York in a high rise building was a little too hard to swallow directly after 9/11. Add to that mention of terrorism and even Bin Laden himself and the movie never had a chance. Now 16 years later the movie is finally being given a respectable release from Blue Underground complete with lots of special features and a crisp blu transfer. But what about the movie?

The evil elevator in this film is inside the fictitious Millennium building sporting 73 elevators and nearly 100 floors. When an elevator full of pregnant women get stuck inside and nearly suffocate, representatives Meteor elevators (the company that invited the electronic hardware and software that controls the elevators, are called in to investigate. Nothing is found but one of the repairmen can’t believe that nothing was wrong. Later when people start dying in bizarre ways related to the elevator he begins to investigate the company he works for with the help of a plucky journalist (Naomi Watts). Together they uncover a nefarious plot involving a mad scientist (Michael Ironside), a corrupt company exec (Ron Pearlman), and a whole lot of people dying.

While similar to The Lift, Down feels like it’s own film. It is a unique riff on the concept of a killer elevator that keeps some of the plot points found in The Lift but maintains it’s own identity. It’s a remake but not slavishly so. And since it’s by the same writer/director as the original it feels like a opportunity to play around with variations on the theme that had been percolating in the intervening years between this and the original. Gone is the languid pace and melodrama found in the first film. This film does not have it’s feet on the floor: it’s far more schlocky. The pace is faster and there are more “accidents,” in the movie, one of which i thought was going to be a dream sequence for one of the characters because it was so strange and over the top. Nope. It was real in the context of the movie. There are elements to this movie that feel very 90’s, like the fashion, characters, and tone and seeing them made me feel nostalgic for that era. But the movie doesn’t always work. There are pages of dialogue that are clunky and odd which give it a so-bad-it’s-good vibe in places. The plot is very over the top, not in terms of gore (though there is some) but in terms of audaciousness. When your main character is trying to use a bazooka by the end of the movie, you may have gone farther than your audience is willing to accept. For me, the more outrageous the film got, the more I enjoyed it.

In the end Down is a mixed bag of a film. It’s overly long (111 minutes!) but well acted, it’s cheesy but fun, it’s familiar and yet feels very foreign. It’s obvious this was made by a non-American and that mirror of our culture through the eyes of someone outside of it makes the film feel very alien. It’s that feeling that makes the movie fun to watch, that and the ridiculous ways in which characters are dispatched. While not a slam dunk, it’s a fun head scratcher of a movie that takes itself¬† less seriously than the original film. Which one is better? Well, The Lift is probably the better film overall but Down is more fun so I’ll be more likely to revisit it in the future.

The set comes with a dvd copy as well for those of you who haven’t made the jump to Blu, extensive behind the scenes footage (nearly 2.5 hours!), commentary, a making-of featurette, and liner notes by Michael Gingold