A motley group of individuals find themselves trapped together in an elevator in this dystopian horror. Luchino Fujisaki is an orphaned schoolgirl living in an underground society. She has powers allowing her to communicate telepathically and read other people’s thoughts. After unsuspectingly causing a large fire on a lower floor with a discarded cigarrette she boards an elevator heading up. When they reach floor 99, two criminals, a rapist and terrorist bomber, are brought into the elevator with their guard. Things soon turn violent when the criminals manage to free themselves and kill the guard. Along with the other passengers, Luchino tries to stay alive, while also battling her own traumas.

“Hellevator” is a self-contained horror tale with some fun world-building. We never discover why the people are living underground, or how the authoritarian overseers came to power, but these things offer an interesting backdrop to the drama. Similarly, Luchino is a character whose background we see only brief glimpses of through her own flashbacks. The film remains focussed on creating a claustrophobic atmopshere as the individuals, Luchino, a mother with a pram, a biologist, and a young man, clash with one another. This is a grimy world, dimly lit tunnels, clanking machinery and fascistic overtones. There is a tangible sense of threat throughout, with the gory violence coming as little surprise when tensions finally bubble over. The score features a jazz like bass and percussion, imitating the ramshackle technology and bizarre mix of recognizable motifs (sailor uniforms, salarymen) and the peculiar, such as a pet that appears to be a brain in a jar, or telepathy. While the majority of the film takes place inside the elevator, the story occasionally breaks out with the framing device of a police interrogation that is investigating the events of the film; and the troubled memories of Luchino.

A simple yet effective horror that builds a terrifying vision of the future. The fact that we learn so little about the world makes it all the more unsettling as we consider what other terrors might lurk in the darkness. Luchino is an enjoyable protagonist, playing on the rebellious teen image. There is a theme of anti-authoritarianism and political satire, but the film doesn’t let this stand in the way of the gory action and tightly scripted drama.

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