Wrenage is guilty. Guilty of messing with the timeline and instigating the most clear case of the Mandela Effect since Dolly, Jaws’ girlfriend from Moonraker, and her braces. I will go to my grave swearing that Dolly had braces and yet, apparently, she doesn’t. The same way that I will go to my grave swearing that Wrenage told me once he was from Australia when he submitted a review, but apparently he isn’t. Now what the hell am I supposed to do with a stack of Aussie jokes that are now as much use as a dead dingoes’ dick?  Let him get on with his latest Retro Review, I suppose. He’s been going Down.

Down

First Floor

My interest in Down (2001) began many moons ago when I realized Ike Barinholtz was kind of funny. I enjoyed it when Barinholtz and other MadTV cast members crashed red-carpet events and roasted celebrities. I’m a small man that way. This led to Google searches and filmographies. Barinholtz’s first movie was called Down? What is that about?

Click.

A killer elevator? I will watch that movie someday.

At last, I made that vow happen. Believe and achieve, kids, believe and achieve…

Dick Maas, the guy who wrote and directed Down, believed and achieved. At some point in his life, he believed a movie about a killer elevator was worth making happen. It all began in 1982 when Maas, a Dutch director, screenwriter, producer and composer, hit it big by directing the Twilight Zone music video for Dutch band, Golden Earring. Maas used the momentum to catapult him into his killer-elevator opus, Der Lift (1983).

Wait, I thought we were talking about Down (2001), which was originally called The Shaft. Down is actually a remake of Der Lift. Yes, a killer-elevator movie from 1983 was thought to be so good that it deserved an American remake by the same guy in 2001.

 

Down

Regular readers may recognize Maas’s name. He also directed Flodder, which Last Movie Outpost resident Dutchman, Leopardo, reviewed. Oddly, enough, my last review was for Eve of Destruction, which starred Dutch sex symbol, Renee Soutendijk. So much Dutch happening in life all of a sudden, but that’s all right. The Dutch make good potato chips and paint. Not sure about their ovens, though…

I should also touch upon Maas’s Amsterdamned. It is about a SCUBA serial killer in the Amsterdam canals. Neat concept, but it couldn’t stick the landing. At the very least, these movies show that Maas is capable of coming up with interesting concepts.

Also interesting is the point-of-view of foreign films. Plot is universal, but different cultures lead to different takes on familiar subject matter. For example, a Japanese ghost story is not the same as an American ghost story. I’m not sure what the Dutch point-of-view of Down might be. Is it a sly spoof of horror films and blockbusters, or is Maas genuinely trying to deliver a kick-ass, killer-elevator movie? Perhaps, Leopardo can help us with the translation?

Second Floor

Let’s look at the cast of Down. It is an early starring role for British beauty, Naomi Watts. At this stage of her career, the best she could do was a killer-elevator movie. Things got a better for Watts, though. She went on to star in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, then onto The Ring, King Kong and more. Currently, Watts’s career is at a place where she could maybe star in a killer-escalator movie. She has come full-circle. Such is the inexorable grind of time.

Watts is perfectly serviceable in Down. She lights up the screen whenever she appears. She plays Plucky-Reporter v1.4. She doesn’t bring much to the cliché other than a 2001 wardrobe of bright, tight-layered tops and skirts. And that’s fine. Watts investigates the mystery and looks pretty doing it. No more is required for a killer-elevator movie.

James Marshall plays Male Lead v1.2 — an elevator repairman who teams up with Watts. Marshall was in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, so he has a Lynch connection with Watts. Marshall was also in A Few Good Men, but his career stalled when he sued a pharmaceutical company for $11 million. Marshall claimed one of their drugs led to the surgical removal of his colon.

Ergo, Marshall might be one of the few actors in Hollywood that is genuinely not full of it…

Next on the cast list is Eric Thal, who plays Male Lead Buddy v1.5. I kept trying to figure out where I had seen Thal before. Turns out he was Male Lead v1.2 in The Puppet Masters (1994).

Beyond these main cast members, a fair number of familiar faces show up: Michael Ironside, Edward Herrmann, Dan Hedaya and Ron Perlman. I imagine the four of them sitting around during breaks and having conversations like this…

Ironside: “So after this turkey, I got Children of the Corn: Revelation on the docket. I was in Total Recall for Pete’s sake!”

Here we have another Dutch connection; Total Recall was a Verhoeven picture.

Herrmann: “After this turkey, I’ve got The Emperor’s Club coming up. You think anyone is ever going to see a film called The Emperor’s Club? I was in The Lost Boys for Pete’s sake!”

Hedaya: “I’m in Mulholland Drive next because I’m stalking Naomi. She will be mine, oh yes, she will be mine.

SPOILERS: she was never his.

Perlman: “Sucks to be you guys! I got Blade II coming up! The only thing that can possibly go wrong there is if some pervert writes a review comparing it to Colonel Angus.”

Third Floor

Let’s dig into the plot of Down. Spoilers will happen.

The movie takes place in New York City. Down was supposed to get a U.S. theatrical release, but it got cancelled due to 9/11. I don’t understand that decision. A killer-elevator movie should not be considered that important, and the people who think it is that important should not be put in positions to make decisions in the first place.

Down

Anyway, lightning strikes a high-rise building. Maas actually travelled to New York to film such scenes, but all of the indoor stuff was shot in the Netherlands. That is how Barinholtz showed up in Down. He lived in the Netherlands at the time while he worked with the comedy-improv troupe Boom Chicago. One of Barinholtz’s coworkers was Jordan Peele.

It is never explicitly stated (or maybe it was, and I missed it while thinking about my grocery list), but the lightning is the catalyst for the elevator’s hankering for killing. The elevator’s first act of evil is to wreck a nightguard’s flashlight. Nefarious, I tell you!

The next day a group of pregnant women enters the elevator. The elevator gets stuck and turns off its air conditioning so that all of the women start birthing their babies. I’m not sure how the lack of AC can send a woman into labor, but birth truly is a wonderous mystery.

Marshall and Thal are sent to fix said elevator. They can’t find anything wrong with it. In fact, Thal is insistent that nothing is wrong. (Plot alert: it’s almost like he has something to hide…) Watts also shows up to write a story about the pregnant women.

Truly, Down is a master class in plot. Notice how all of the elements seamlessly come together.

Down

Next, a rollerblader gets sucked into the elevator, zipped to the top floor and spit off the building so that he splatters on the pavement in front of his friend.

See, like I said — seamless.

Marshall and Watts team up to solve the mystery. Along the way, they learn that Ironside, who is a scientist at the elevator company, once experimented with using dolphin brains to make computer chips. Do elevator companies need a lot of scientists? Seems to me they would prefer engineers. Then again, considering some of the engineers I’ve met, I can understand avoiding them.

A half-hearted attempt at laying out a conspiracy is made. Perlman is in charge of the elevator company. He knows Ironside used his special chips in the elevator’s computer. Thal also seems to know this, and it gets him killed, which motivates Marshall and Watts to infiltrate the building, discover a pulsating brain in a control panel and blow it up with a stinger missile.

Again, seamless.

The movie ends with Aerosmith’s Love In An Elevator blasting over the credits.

Fourth Floor

Down left me reeling, like I was in a boxing match where the gloves were giant marshmallows, and I took a right cross to the chin. How can organic computer chips cause something like rollerbladers to get sucked into elevators and inanimate objects like cables to grab people? Telekinesis, maybe? The chips are made from brains, after all.

But why am I trying to answer such questions anyway? It’s not like the makers of Down are paying me anything to make readers believe the movie is logical. Turns out the makers didn’t pay a lot of folks. They never fulfilled obligations to pay SAG-AFTRA residuals to the American principal actors or stunt performers. This could be because Down cost $15 million to make, and it made slightly over $500,000. Those kind of residuals might actually cause recipients to owe money.

Are there any positives? Down looks nice. It reminded me of how Die Hard looked, which was also lensed by a Dutchman, Jan De Bont. Die Hard is one of my favorite-looking films. It looked like no other movie when it came out — more sophisticated in its lensing and lighting than standard action fare. This esthetic does not fit Down, however. It is a slick veneer stretched over a void and a precursor to today’s overproduced flicks. Snake Eyes: A G.I. Joe Origin is a good example of this. No need exists for such a movie to look A-list. It should look like a Cannon film from 1987.

Down

I liked how Maas used some ambiguity in his storytelling. He never flat out says Ironside moved from dolphin brains to human brains in his chip-manufacturing. One has to infer it. Likewise, it is also touched upon that maybe the ghost of a former repairman had something to do with the elevator developing sentience. Finally, Maas deserves credit for having the chutzpah to make a killer-elevator movie in the first place. Not a lot exists with that concept on which to hang an entire film. To my mind, Maas failed with Down, but, hey, good effort.

Meanwhile, the original Der Lift is considered something of a cult classic in the land of the Dutch. It would be interesting to check it out and compare the differences. I’m not sure how one can make a good killer-elevator movie. I think you’d have to go metaphoric or experimental.

Other elevator movies that come to mind are Devil, based on a Shyamalan story, but it is not the same as Down. The elevator isn’t a killer in Devil. People are trapped inside an elevator with a killer.

The End? is an Italian movie that tries to combine elevators and zombies. Again, no killer elevator. It is a siege movie where the location is an elevator rather than an old house, mall or whatever.

If I was making a killer-elevator movie, I’d go with a high-rise building where people mysteriously disappear. Eventually, it is discovered the elevator is responsible. How one goes from there is up to the individual. Maybe all of the people that disappeared were bad people, and the elevator took them to hell. Or maybe the building somehow became a living creature, and the elevator is its mouth, and the people who disappear got taken to its stomach. Or you could go the haunted route. Regardless, kick-ass is probably the hardest route to take with the idea of a killer elevator.

Down

Which brings us to my earlier question. Was Maas kidding around or was he honestly trying to make a kick-ass, killer-elevator movie? IMDB trivia may supply the answer. Maas said he had trouble getting along with Marshall. Maas didn’t want Marshall to take the movie seriously, but Marshall didn’t listen.

I’m not sure what to think about that. It seemed like everyone in the movie took it fairly seriously. Maybe Marshall thought taking it seriously was part of the joke, but maybe Dutch humor is different from American humor? That is where cultural point-of-view can come into play.

All in all, Down is not a good movie. At best, it sometimes flirts with being a good-bad movie. Regardless, it brought us here today. We are talking about it, and it amused us for a little while. Some entertainment value exists in that, but when it comes to taking a ride on this killer elevator, take the stairs to the exit instead.

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