Level Up (2016)

levelupA group of masked thugs grab Matt and tell him to do as they say or he’ll never see his girlfriend Anna again.  As they give him orders by text message, Matt is pushed to see how far he’s ready to go to save the woman he loves. Based on an original idea by Andrew Orr, written by Adam Randall and Gary Young, and directed by Randall, the film is like a type of scavenger hunt/chase through London through which the lead learns about his tormentors and about himself.  The bad guys created here are never really explained.  The chase the film creates is interesting and how the lead deals with everything thrown at him is in a realistic manner while keeping the attention of the viewer.

The story is not exactly super complex but it works and has enough mystery to keep one guessing throughout. The whole film revolves around the character of Matt, a slacker needing focus, played by Josh Bowman who gives off good slacker vibes with a laziness about him and just the right level of annoyance at first.  His performance adjusts with his character’s evolution and he becomes more assertive, more confident as the film progresses.  Most of the other characters are small or wearing the granny-est of ski masks.  There is however another man stuck kind a similar situation as the leas, referred to as The Businessman in the credits and played by William Houston who gives an unrestrained, almost desperate performance.

His performance works well as an opposite to Bowman’s. In Level Up, the music by Plaid is almost like an extra character.  It adds urgency and feels like it’s pushing the lead to go faster, work harder, not give up.  Also, as opposed to most movies, it doesn’t really feel like a score or a soundtrack.  It’s its own entity and it sticks out for better or work, which is the former for this reviewer.

Another extra character in this film is the city of London.  The film doesn’t go for the usual landmarks and tourist attractions.  The locations are more varied with typical London houses and flats, old buildings and new modern ones.  The city gets properly explored which for someone having been there, it almost becomes a game of spotting favorite places and new ones to see next time.

Also, typically London are the CCTV systems in place and used by the bad guys to track their victims, or players, through the maze of the city.  These images paired with the more traditional images with cinematography by Eben Bolter showing some scenes in tight, close-up shots add to the chases and city running by giving off a look and vibe that are dynamic and push the story forward.  This is all highlighted by the editing by Kate Coggins which is fast-paced but not a bunch of quick cuts.  The actions feels fast but is also visible, something many action films of the last few years fail to do.

The film sports some special effects and more visual effects, both of which are good.  The special effects by Alistair Anderson and Alexander Gunn are fairly minimal but look quite good on screen.  The visual effects by Stuart Brown replicate video games rather well.  They are not hugely fantastic but their point is not to blend in, but to show the video game view in their scenes.

Level Up is a fun action film with great shots of London which is very well used as a location.  Its music and effects work while the use of the CCTV is timely and appropriate to the location.  The action keeps the interest and the way it is shot lets you see it as it happens.  The story’s themes of love, testing oneself, regrets, and moving forward create more than a simple chase film.