There’s clearly a place in the world for Danishka Esterhazy’s grim fairy tale, which zaps our current anxieties with the institutional dread of early Cronenberg.
The film takes place within a high-security all-girl boarding school/orphanage run like a concentration camp, but there’s revolt brewing inside teen Vivien, seriously chafing against the militaristic order, vitamin regimes, and daily lessons in “female virtue”—not to mention the spates of physical torture. Sara Canning gets to have the most fun here as an Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS–like warden, and indeed, if Level 16 had been made 40 years ago as a drive-in movie, we’d feel comfortably removed from its cartoon Nazi horrors. In a world of escalating corporate psychopathy and humans as pure resource? Not so much. The pacing is deadly and the impoverishments of budget a little too visible, but Level 16 manages to unnerve all the same.