Tuesday, May 20, 2008

REVIEW: Hellevator: The Bottled Fools - Hiroki Yamaguchi (2004)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Aye carumba! What a mess! I wasn’t expecting great cinema from Hiroki Yamaguchi’s 2004 sci-fi/ horror film “Hellevator: The Bottled Fools”, but how many opportunities can one movie screw up?

The story starts out with Luchino, a high school girl living in a dystopian future who is suspected of being the unwitting cause of a major fuel explosion that’s killed dozens of people. The world that Yamaguchi initially presents us with is a compelling one; a subterranean Japan that has had everything turned up a few notches: school girls are transformed into hyper-kawaii drug addicts, salarymen into phalanxes of anonymous drones with rotary telephones hidden in their jackets, children’s toy tamagotchis have been replaced with human brains on wheels, and the system of trains that connects Japan has been replaced by a complicated network of elevators (thus the title). The whole thing reminded me of the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and I settled in for what I hoped would be another pleasant surprise from the video store.

Once Luchino’s elevator is commandeered by law enforcement for transporting a serial rapist and mad bomber to their execution everything shifts. Either by choice or more probably due to budget constraints the action is restricted to the interior of the dingy elevator. Of course the two convicts escape their chains and kill their handlers and minute by minute the menace and bloodshed is ramped up in this enclosed space. Fine. Now Yamaguchi wants this to be a strangers-caught-in-a-room genre piece along the lines of “Cube”, but here it makes the same mistake as Araki’s film. What makes a this kind of death trap situation work is slowly watching the pressure peel back the characters like onions, but we need to have a fairly good idea of who these people are from the get go, but the setting of a non-specific future just gets in the way of this. Who are these people, or more specifically why should I care about an elevator operator who appears to be just inches away from being a robot?

Yamaguchi tries to flesh out these one-dimensional caricatures (I can’t bring myself to call them characters) by making Luchino psychic (?!) so she can look into these people’s minds to provide some much needed back story. As things shifted more and more, though, I’d given up caring whether or not this was something real or just a scenario playing out in Luchino’s mind or what the twist ending might add to this disaster. I just ejected the DVD at the end wishing finally that they’d ditched the dystopian future and the elevator and set the damn thing on a JR commuter train. At least then this film might (and I stress might) have had a chance.

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