The fear that our actions are not our own, or at the very least are being guided and observed by sinister forces, isn’t new. The ubiquity of social media combined with our apparently abysmal attention spans makes it perhaps more plausible than ever, meaning we’re likely to see more thrillers like Level Up, which manages to be intriguing in spite of its predictability.
Matt (Josh Bowman) brings to mind a young Bill Murray in Stripes, except Murray’s John Winger at least had a job. Matt plays video games all day while his girlfriend, Anna (Leila Mimmack), diligently goes to the office and her new paralegal position.
Tensions, in short, are high enough when a trio of toughs in festive ski masks break into their apartment. They drug Matt, strap a locked box to his chest, and send him on a series of increasingly sinister errands, assuring him Anna will meet an unpleasant end if he doesn’t play along.
The gamer references run well beyond the title. And for a while we’re invited to toy with the idea that Matt was recruited due to his online prowess (think The Last Starfighter‘s Robert Preston recruiting for ISIS instead of the Star League). But no, as a series of encounters reveals the breadth of the machinations around him, what we’re left with is less The Game than a coerced grand theft auto.
Director Adam Randall keeps the action tightly paced and the dialogue to a refreshing minimum, helping to heighten Matt’s growing isolation. That’s enough to earn Level Up a few slots in your memory card.
Directed by Adam Randall
Opens August 26, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 24, 2016