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Down (2001)
Director: Dick Maas

review by Paul Higson

Down gets off to rattling start. Overly lit and obvious sets, belly laugh dialogue and horror set-ups, suddenly one is back 20 years to the golden age of video and the arrival of a horde of comic horror tales, many of those coming from the previous decade of the 1970s. Larry Cohen, Jeff Leiberman, Bob Clark, Charles Kaufman, Sam Raimi and Frank Henenlotter were among those amusing us highly with their imaginative conceptual thrillers and a wicked streak of humour ran through many other films like Folks At The Red Wolf Inn, Christmas Evil, The Pit and Devil Times Five. By the mid-1980s it became too calculated, the laughs demanded attention, crushing the horror with the grim no longer allowed in to haunt the fun. Down is phoney enough to get close but outstays its welcome.
   Dick Maas is best known as the director of the 1982 feature The Lift and is back with what is indeterminable exactly as either a sequel or a remake, the action transported to New York's Millennium Building without build-up and zinging right in there piling a prenatal class into the express elevator for its first malfunction. Rightly unsettling the mind begins to race with possible horrors as the eight heavily pregnant women contend with the hurried fall of the elevator, the braking, trapping between floors, increasing heat and, yes, breaking waters. The unreality already set-up in the botched lighting of the art deco interiors and the high fake American accents of the British actors brought in to the Dutch studios, where all the interiors were shot, we buy into the shock on the faces of those waiting outside the doors as they finally open. For crying out loud, what is it, boiled babies?
   Eric Thal is Jeffrey, the experienced elevator repairman and James Marshall is Mark who has been his buddy on calls over the six months since the death of his previous work partner in an apparent suicide. They are unable to locate any problem but the mischievous lifts continue in the games. A blind gentleman, amusingly named Mr Faith, trusts to find a floor in his lift and instead takes his dog with him in a ninety-storey drop. Then a security guard is smoothly decapitated in the film's gruesome highlight, a very clever bit of CGI, for once. Naomi Watts is Jennifer, the clownish reporter on the case, inevitable forthcoming love interest to Mark, but the comedy interplay and the investigation make too wide a bloodless gap between the horror thrills. The sci-fi shocks become more ridiculous still with a roller-blade youth spat out of the lift from the observation deck, then a lot of twittering before one effective lift massacre and the not so grand finale. Some great stock players are invited in front of the camera but are wasted or embarrassed, it is unimaginable that they could not have been doing something better. Michael Ironside is the villainous German, Gunter Steinberg, up to his tight collar in the sci-fi soup, obviously mixing electronics with organisms and giving the lifts a relative intelligence, if a jackass mentality for hurting others is any reasonable sign of a sentience.
   The Dutchman's humour translates well, there is plenty to laugh over, but there are cleverer laughs to be had out there coming from any direction and the lack of mood casts doubts on my memory of Maas' earlier lower budgeted work, The Lift and Amsterdamned. Given how well composed and troubling some of the horror sequences are it is surprising how quickly annulled it is, but neither can I recommend whether it would have been better had he concentrated on the horror or the comedy, but I would certainly have advised on a shortening of the running time. The centrepiece scare comes when the lift fills again with victims before the emergency floor gives way as it shoots up the shaft, the occupants slipping to a body shattering death one by one. That is written off as a terrorist action and with that comes one of the films few enduring fascinations. As a 2001 film, is the dialogue added or does it predate the Twin Towers attack? Soldiers in the building chasing a mystery intruder jest "Give my regards to bin Laden," and, posit as to why not further terrorist action, "They tried it with the World Trade Centre ten years ago." As an American co-production it will be looking for a release there, though it probably settled for a write-off.
Down

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