Elevator Movie is about as small as a film can get. Two principal actors share the tiny space of a broken elevator for the entirety of the movie. It's shot in black-and-white, in grotty 16mm. From those truly minimal underpinnings comes a sly, twisted powerhouse of absurdist existentialism. Writer, director and everything-else-er Zeb Haradon makes it look easy, and though Elevator Movie isn't for everyone, you weirdoes who watch Eraserhead every Thanksgiving should take notice.
Abruptly and shockingly we meet Jim (Haradon) picking his nose in an elevator. Lana (Robin Ballard) boards while Jim quickly hides his finger. They want the elevator to go up, it has other things in mind. While trapped together they form a bond. What else are you going to do?
At least Lana's lovely; Jim's a weird, freaky loner with bad hair, a stained shirt, and a bizarre idea about genetically modifying a Venus Fly Trap for personal gain. Yet, forced together they open up. Jim demonstrates growing bravery as he reveals things about himself that no one knows. Though at times repulsed, Lana grows to respect Jim and accept his desires, even as she's irrevocably changed by the experience.
Viewers will be changed too, superficially when they realize they've been engrossed by a 90-minute movie with two people mostly just talking against a blank wall, and more deeply if they dare try to ponder what it all means. You see, Elevator Movie is not one to provide easy answers, (and there's a huge portion of the populace that can't stand this type of movie) but the weirdly simple, natural way Jim and Lana deal with their predicament, and relate to each other, provides more than enough sustenance to sate the adventurous movie-goer too long denied a good fix of the strange stuff.
More outré elements secure Elevator Movie a place of (at least) celluloid infamy. Among the queasy 'horrors' are: bodily waste issues, extreme mouse-cruelty, a focus on anal sex and self-gratification, and a distinct bent towards things-Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man). We needn't even mention a healthy dose of Sartre - if this elevator isn't Hell, the absence of any exit at least hints at the possibilities of a meaningless existence. Such high-and-lowbrow elements certainly keep viewers awake, (while making this a one-of-a-kind experience) and they probably will ask for a second or third viewing.
The real genius behind Haradon's script is the way it asks you to look at your own life. With characters broken in twain broadly - the extroverted, born-again, ex-drug/ sex addict and the introverted, virginal, atheistic creep - there are few avenues down which to pick your pony. The realistic, ultimately easy way the two open up to each other's beings, and accept or reject what they see there, mirrors any number of configurations of human relationships in which we find ourselves throughout life. I (guardedly) found Elevator Movie a perfect (if not cruelly stereotyped) metaphor for marriage. Those of you in committed, monogamous relationships will have to watch for yourselves to see if you agree.
The point is that Elevator Movie is more than just a surrealist freak-show. While those aberrant elements are in strong enough supply to please many a midnight-screening fan, (from back when midnight-screenings did more than just hype the latest Batman/ Harry Potter flick) it's the way that Haradon (in scripting, acting and directing) uses the bleak and desperate to craft a deeply affecting portrait of humans' struggle to make sense of living with other humans, that makes Elevator Movie something of lasting import. Not to mention the fact that he seemingly pulls it off on a budget that wouldn't even buy a junky used bicycle. As Jim stares dumbly at the elevator that's been his sole home for months, he's no closer to an answer than when he first set foot in the box. Ain't that the truth?
A brief bio included on the DVD seems to indicate that Elevator Movie was shot on Super-8mm, though other sources indicate that it's 16mm. Presented in black-and-white in 1.33:1 fullscreen ratio, this is the epitome of shoestring moviemaking. I'll admit the persistent scratches down the frame smack of digital 'film-look' but I'm just not sure. Other bits of more convincing film damage crop up often. Otherwise, the image sometimes sports portions of clear, sharp detail, but otherwise lots of graininess, some poor framing, bad lighting and other 'amateur' aspects. It's all quite aesthetically appropriate, however.
More from the 'is it or isn't it?' column of Blair Witch-style amateur mystery is represented by the sound track. No indications of processing are given on the box. It's probably at best stereo. Frequent obvious looping has an echoey room-sound effect. Most obvious is the loop during which Lana's mouth doesn't even move. Lots of back and forth between quieter 'looped' dialog and 'live recording' - complete with loud sprocket noises as film rushes through the camera - creates a hypnotic, trashy aesthetic. How much of this is real is open to question. I suppose if the choice is between ultra-low-budget necessity and post-production trickery I'll vote for the former, but who knows? Anyway, if you're hankering to buy a new home theater set-up, don't use this movie as your reference.
A decent chunk of Previews for other Pathfinder releases (including the likes of Miike's bizarre Gozu) accompany two short, text Biographies for Haradon and Ballard.
Fans of early David Lynch and other low-budget, absurdist auteurs will be delighted by Elevator Movie, a sick and sincere slice of hopeless existentialism and despair. Though languid shots of turds floating in a coffee can and other shocking, disgusting elements form a de facto calling card, Elevator Movie shines with its unforced, unsympathetic look at human relations. Maybe you won't be stuck in an elevator for months with a girl suffering severe twenty-first-century sickness, but Haradon's script skewers enough real-life analogues that, after watching, you'll spend the next few days feeling it anyway. If you gladly pony up your ducats for the latest Ice Cube family comedy, then you're probably better off skipping Elevator Movie, but if you like your entertainment 'outside,' then this one is heartily Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com