cast: Naomi Watts, James Marshall, Eric Thal, Michael Ironside, and Ron Perlman
writer and director: Dick Maas
107 minutes (15) 2001 widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Mosaic DVD Region 2 rental
Also available to rent on video
[released 8 December]
reviewed by Donald Morefield
Offering another intriguing mix of hilarious comedy and suspenseful horror – as opposed to the far simpler format of comedy-horror (like all those familiar spoofs of successful genre product), Down (aka: The Shaft), returns to the rebellious machine theme of this Dutch director’s earlier thriller The Lift (1983). Again, we find there’s a homicidal elevator, this time located in the fictitious Millennium Building which graces the New York skyline. Made shortly before the destruction of the famous twin towers on 11th September 2001, the climax of Down seems eerily prescient when paramilitary troops arrive on the scene to tackle a suspected terrorist threat…
Playing lift engineer Jeffrey, Eric Thal (star of Heinlein-inspired invasion flick The Puppet Masters, 1994) and his unreliable but ultimately heroic partner Mark Newman (James Marshall) are both thrust into the middle of a sinister corporate conspiracy when their repair work on the Manhattan skyscraper’s kitschy décor express elevators proves unable to find the fault causing a series of random and bizarre deaths. When city journalist Jennifer Evans (Naomi Watts, The Ring) investigates the mysterious deaths and files a damning report on the competence of Mark and Jeffrey’s repairs, she uncovers evidence linking the mounting fatalities to the work of mad scientist Gunter Steinberg (Michael Ironside, the memorable bad guy in Scanners, Extreme Prejudice, and Total Recall), who initiated secret government experiments in cybernetics weapons. Is the elevator somehow ‘alive’ (and extremely dangerous) or is the scientist responsible for sabotage?
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A quip about bin Laden’s bombing of the World Trade Centre in 1993 helps fix this tolerable sci-fi thriller in the real world, and yet the overall tone of the picture – which frequently resorts to laughter in the face of tragedy, and the predictability of certain plot elements – is regrettably unsubtle and Down fails to be gripping or even as intelligent as it could have been. NYPD cop Lieutenant McBain (the versatile Dan Hedaya) finds his inquiries hampered by business concerns, as closing down the building’s elevators hits the top floor observatory’s profits from tourists, while a dispute over responsibility (or culpability?) between the tower’s manager and the maintenance firm, headed by Mitchell (Ron Perlman), provides yet another diversion from the weird events, and further narrative support to the main high concept (excuse the awful pun) plot. Unfortunately, the film’s emotional conflict between humour and solemnity means that all tension is dispelled long before the clumsily paced, ham-fisted absurdities of the special effects laden ending.
Down is probably worth renting if you are in the mood for a decent B-movie, but don’t expect too much fun.