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‘Level Up’ (review)

level-up-posterProduced by Heather Greenwood,
Andrew Orr, Danny Potts

Written by Adam Randall, Gary Young
Directed by Adam Randall
Starring Josh Bowman, Neil Maskell,
William Houston, Kulvinder Ghir,
Doc Brown, Leila Mimmack,
Christina Wolfe, Paul Reynolds,
Cameron Jack, Jonathan Arkwright

British film Level Up, from first-time feature director Adam Randall, starts off as a well-paced paranoid thriller before falling apart in its third act.

Level Up (not to be confused with a 2011 TV movie that aired on Nickelodeon with the same name) stars Josh Bowman – who American audiences may know from the ABC television series Revenge – as Matt, a young Londoner who enjoys day-drinking and video games, habits which seem to annoy his girlfriend Anna (an underused Leila Mimmack.)

Without giving too much away, Anna is kidnapped by a group with a mysterious agenda and Matt soon finds himself racing against time to perform a series of increasingly difficult tasks to ensure her safety.

In the early part of the film the set-up is a lot of fun to watch – it’s like a mash-up of North by Northwest and Run Lola Run – as a disoriented Matt tries to make sense of what is happening to him. As the details of what is happening to Matt become clearer I found my suspension of disbelief more and more difficult to maintain – thinking about the plot for more than five minutes bring massive inconsistencies to light, and too many of the stories’ twists are telegraphed to the point that they’re easy to see coming.

Since the reveals are teased out over the course of the film I feel like writing more would delve too deeply into spoiler territory, but I will say that the film ends in a completely ham-fisted attempt at social commentary that does a great disservice to the fun, gripping thriller that the film had previously been.

There’s an attempt to marry the themes of the film to a critique of video game culture and the voyeurism of social media – this attempt mostly doesn’t work because of a lack of trust in the audience to make those connections themselves’. Too often in the back half of the film you’ll be taken out of the action as a dream sequence or cutaway makes the subtext overly explicit.

Bowman does a fine job as Matt – the film is told from his point of view and there are very few scenes that he’s not in – and he’s got pretty great screen presence. I was reminded of Chris Evans on several occasions. The Matt character spends a lot of the film trying to get his bearings and reacting to the craziness around him and Bowman manages to sell this – you’re with this character and want to see him succeed.

Additionally, there is solid supporting work from Neil Maskell and William Houston, who do yeoman’s work with the scant material they’re given.

The editing in Level Up is marvelous – particularly in scenes involving Matt running from task to task or involved in some sort of altercation (which is the majority of the film) – and a huge part of why I enjoyed the first half of the film so much is a credit to editor Kate Coggins.

Ultimately, however, this is director Adam Randall’s show and his clear chops at building suspense and staging action scenes are undercut by his failure to stick the landing. If you put the issues with Level Up’s ending aside, however, this is an impressive debut.

Level Up is in limited release today and arrives on VOD September 26th.

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