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Photos courtesy Markham Street Films

Dystopian-thriller Level 16 opens in Canadian theatres

By Troy Hasselman, March 21 2019 —

Level 16, the dystopian-thriller from Canadian director Danishka Esterhazy, had its première in Canadian theatres on March 15. The film takes place in the fictional Vestalis Academy, a mysterious boarding school for girls, and takes influences from numerous genres including science-fiction, horror and suspense.

“The film is basically about a very timeless, prison-like boarding school in which young ladies are raised from birth to conform to effeminate virtues. They are raised in ignorance so they don’t know how to read or write,” says Katie Douglas, who stars as the film’s teenaged heroine Vivien. “They don’t know anything about the outside world and are told the air outside is poisonous and haven’t even seen the moon. So we’re lead to believe that at Vestalis Academy they’re raised to be ‘clean girls’ so they can one day be adopted by high-society families who will take care of them. The film surrounds two students who start to realize that something is actually very off at the school. They begin to rebel against conformity and everything that they’ve ever known to try and figure out what is really going at the academy and where there fate really lies there.”

The women-centred plot and dystopian backdrop of the film has earned it many comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, the message and themes of Level 16 are timely, with influences from headlines over the last few years.

“The dystopian concept, especially this one regarding feminism and the suppression of women, is a relevant one right now,” Douglas says. “There have been obstacles in the past and we are getting better, but there’s still a lot that we have to confront. I think this film makes a statement and it’s an important one and a relevant one. It’s a film made by a woman and for women and everyone else too.”

Playing a character as isolated from society as Vivien gave Douglas a unique acting challenge.

“When you’re talking about Vivien, you’re talking about someone who has been separated from reality for her entire life. Her idea of life is completely different from what lies outside the school and she was raised under horrific circumstances that she thinks are normal,” Douglas says. “Her individuality has been released so she’s very hollow and frightened and essentially an empty shell of a porcelain girl. That was an interesting process because I wanted her to come off as very odd — the only culture that she’s aware of is old-timey movies so the way that she talks is odd, her mannerisms are odd, her values are odd. It was tough to come up with a character who realistically seemed like they came up in an establishment so separated from reality.”

In spite of the challenges of the role, Douglas is pleased with the reception the film has been getting and thinks it’s an important story to tell in our current moment.

“I’ve seen some really lovely reviews about the film so far,” she says. “I’m happy that it’s being received well and it’s touching the audience that we hoped it would and that people are taking away what we initially wanted people to take away from it. The film is a love story between friends and it’s reminding everybody that as women we have to stick together through these changing times and just don’t forget to love each other. I’m really glad that people are recognizing that and I’m happy with the reviews that I’ve seen.”

Level 16 is now playing at the Globe Cinema in Calgary. Showtimes can be found on their website.

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