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Mag Fest Review: Between Floors

February 23, 2010

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When I was at the Sidewalk Film Festival in September, a bunch of filmmakers were trapped in an elevator after leaving a party. The results were photos and flip cam videos of quite the hilarious nature. I thought then, wouldn’t it be a great film to show people trapped in an elevator? Low and behold, Austin filmmaker Jen White had already obliged with her narrative feature, “Between Floors.”

I saw the film this weekend at the Magnolia Film Festival in Starkville, Miss. An interesting improvisation of life changing moments while trapped in an elevator, “Between Floors” follows five scenarios in different elevators, presumably occurring at the same time.

The first scenario is seen through a black and white silent camera and is a man trapped alone with only his briefcase. His character arc allows for some comic relief between some of the heavier elevator interactions. With no dialogue, his character is built through a series of notes aimed at the camera which actually works effectively through his overanxious and jumbled performance (which is likely who I would be in the scenario of being trapped).

The second scenario is also a man alone in a hospital elevator, armed with a cigarette and a handheld video camera. As we learn more about him, we see he is struggling with the loss of someone close to him and is using the camera as a way to communicate with that person.

The third scenario involves a man and a monkey. Perhaps the most charming improv of the group, we go through wonderment of why this man is trapped in an elevator and is beaten up and standing next to someone in a monkey suit. But as their story develops, this all makes more sense and provides some of the most laugh out loud material for the film. Both actors play well off of each other but Ryan Wickerham (the non-monkey in the elevator) is definitely someone to watch – although IMDB does show he has had smaller acting roles since at least 1992 and a few writer credits as well (still, I want to see more of him!).

The fourth scenario is a crowded elevator where the people barely have room to stand and the chaos of a large crowd trapped together brings on some of the most claustrophobic moments in the film and gets to the heart of one of my biggest nightmares.

The fifth scenario is truly the heart of the film and could stand alone as its own short film (White did note that the feature developed out of a short she created and I wonder if it focused on this scene). Without giving too much away, a couple planning to attend a party discover that the close quarters cause hidden tensions to bubble to the surface. A beautiful anatomy of a couple starting at a serene place and ending with too much truth revealed, the actors in the scene are phenomenal and hard to believe that they did it by improv. The older couple are SAG actors, but newcomer Kathryn MaGill’s performance is what really sets the tone of the scenes.

While a few of the scenarios feel sluggish at times, most of the editing is quite nicely cut to the right tension, but the strength of the couple’s scenario makes it difficult to pull away from them to follow others. And though the scenes do all show people trying to hit the escape button, and cell phones not working, no one ever really tries to escape out the roof or pry the doors open. Although a minor issue that the filmmaker does try to address, I still noticed the reluctance of most characters to keep pushing towards a way to escape but then again, in that situation, maybe we would all be the same way.

“Between Floors” won Best Feature at the Mag Fest and has some upcoming screenings (which will be announced soon).

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