Overview: An aimless young adult living in London finds himself an active player in a sinister augmented reality game that puts his girlfriend in danger. FilmBuff; 2016; Not Rated; 84 minutes.
21st Century Malaise: Within the first five minutes of writer/director Adam Randall’s feature length debut Level Up, central protagonist Matt (Josh Bowman) is made out to be an easy stand-in for many a young adult male eking out an uneasy existence in the twenty-first century. Unemployed and living with his increasingly exacerbated girlfriend Anna (Leila Mimmack), Matt’s waking life is one of haphazard malaise undercut by a deep well of self-conscious dissatisfaction. Despite appearing content to sit on the couch and play video games all day, Matt is sympathetic in so much that his absence from the professional world is one of intimated stagnation brought on by a world unable to provide an applicable position for him to fill.
Left with nothing else to do but twiddle his own thumbs and stare blankly into the void, Matt is left in a bit of a quandary in Level Up. Outwardly supportive and well-meaning in his own sophomoric way, Matt’s day-to-day existence is filled with watching YouTube videos with his other unemployed male friend and getting drunk before going out to dinner with his significant other. But when the two knuckleheads stumble upon a certain video clip of a man running off the roof of a building to his own death, their tacit inertia comes face-to-face with a real life scenario seemingly pulled from the half-formed daydreams conjured up through too many hours spent in virtually simulated reveries and drunken slumbers.
Fabricated Realities: Shortly after discovering the video in question of a man falling to his own death with an enigmatic vest strapped to his chest, Matt is quickly initiated into the very same underground gaming event that saw the termination of the aforementioned human casualty, and strapped with the very same vest of certain apparent doom. While the depicted carnage shown online was initially referred to off-handedly as “a shit Jason Bourne” bit of stunt work, what follows in the rest of Level Up is a bit more serious. Borrowing heavily from various facets of contemporary video game design and basic player mechanics, Randall’s film serves as a gripping social satire on the ills of fabricated realities in general.
Immediately evoking the lurid nature of reality TV, Level Up probes the collective sub-conscious desire to watch other people in potential peril, be it real or staged for dramatic effect. Making his way from one brief encounter with death to the next after being told that his girlfriend will be killed if he doesn’t follow explicit instructions. Matt becomes like an active player in the video games that he is initially depicted as being engrossed in to the point of social disengagement. For the most part, Randall pulls off the task of constructing a socially conscious thriller about a society whose very sense of what’s real has become overly saturated by media-based entertainment. There’s rarely a moment in the movie that doesn’t serve its purpose, resulting in a motion picture that is both viscerally appealing for the casual viewer and intellectually stimulating for the attentive viewer.
Overall: Level Up is a more than capably handled thriller about video games, reality TV, and twenty-first century unemployment that succeeds on the back of sheer visceral propulsion.
Featured Image: FilmBuff