If you’ve seen The Island (2005) and Never Let Me Go (2010), you’d have some idea what Level 16 is about.
Unlike The Island, there are no bombastic action scenes in Level 16. And, unlike Never Let Me Go which, with all its soul-searching and philosophical underpinnings is the second most depressing film I have ever seen (Requiem for a Dream being the most depressing film ever), Level 16 ends more happily.
In an undisclosed time and place, young girls are housed at “The Vestalis Academy” which physically resembles a prison more than a boarding school. Their school uniforms suggest the 1940s. The medical technology, however, is something that has not yet been invented. And, in one scene, the headmaster, Brixil, plays a CD player.
But then the when is not really relevant to the story which is about the girls, the people who exercise complete authority over them and why the school is as strange as it looks and as creepy as it feels.
The girls are told that the world outside the school walls is dangerous and filthy. Vivien, Sophia, Ava, Rita, Hedy and their schoolmates from Level 1 to Level 16 spend their days doing lessons anchored on “feminine virtues” on top of which are obedience and cleanliness. Curiosity and anger are vices.
They all look forward to “moving picture night” when they watch movies featuring the actresses after whom they were named.
They are given pills regularly to stay healthy. And they are told that, after completing Level 16, sponsors will come to see them and choose who will get adopted.
Obedience and cleanliness. Avoidance of curiosity and anger. Except in rare situations, the girls abide by the rules. When they don’t, there are always tattletales among them. And no one really wants to get into trouble lest the prize of being adopted is lost.
There’s just one problem. Adoption is a fairy tale. The Vestalis Academy is not a school for orphaned girls. It is a medical facility funded by an unseen investor (“Alex”) who has his own private army.
The mission of The Vestalis Academy? To raise girls with beautiful skins which can be surgically transplanted to rich aging women so they can recapture their youthful looks.
Unlike The Island and Never Let Me Go where clones are raised for the survival of rich people, in Level 16, the girls are orphans or plucked from poor families that are more than willing to sell them. And, unlike The Island and Never Let Me Go, the girls in Level 16 are there to feed the vanity of rich old women.
Movie goers who like to categorize films can easily label Level 16 as a scifi-thriller or a fantasy thriller. But it’s a tale of morality more than anything else. At least in cases where survival is at the core, morality is a real dilemma. But vanity? The clients of The Vestalis Academy make vampires who suck blood for survival appear more sympathetic.
When you think about about it… How much money has been poured into medical research to create products and discover procedures — from facial creams to placenta injections to stem-cell therapy — which, although imbued with legitimate use, have been exploited by the rich to make them look or feel younger?
Vanity has spawned billion-dollar industries globally. Just how much farther will medical science go to keep the money pouring in?