“I think it was from taking the elevator to my dorm room every day in college. I developed this weird thing with elevators. It wasn’t fetishistic or anything, I was just always thinking about the elevator, and you know how you feel your stomach move a bit when an elevator first starts or stops? I would feel that at random times in the day when I wasn’t in an elevator, and I would feel like the ground was just a rising elevator platform. I was also very shy at the time and I started to look forward to taking the elevator every day because it was the rare time I might be forced into a social situation with someone.”–Zeb Haradon on the origins of Elevator Movie
FEATURING: Zeb Haradon, Robin Ballard
PLOT: A woman carrying groceries is trapped in an elevator with a socially inept graduate student. Oddly, no one answers when they push the call button, and no one comes for days and weeks on end; even more oddly, her grocery bag is refilled each morning. As the weeks stretch into months, the mismatched pair—an adult virgin obsessed with anal sex and a reformed slut turned Jesus freak—form a sick symbiotic bond, until the girl undergoes a weird metamorphosis.
- Per director Haradon, the budget for the film was between twenty-five and thirty thousand dollars.
- According to a statement on the official website the main influences on the story were Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” the films of Luis Buñuel (particularly That Obscure Object of Desire and The Exterminating Angel), and Eraserhead.
- Although the mouse-stomping scene was faked, the end of the film shows a joke disclaimer that proclaims, “No animals were harmed in the making of this film except for lobsters and mice.” Haradon received angry mails from animal rights advocates who believed that a mouse was actually killed onscreen.
- Hardon’s followup film was the documentary Waiting for NESARA (2005), about a bizarre UFO cult composed of ex-Mormons.
- The 2008 Romanian film Elevator features a similar dramatic scenario of a young man and woman trapped together in a cargo elevator, but without any surrealistic elements.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Lana, after she inexplicably transforms into a metal/human hybrid.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: By mixing Sartre’s “No Exit” with an ultra-minimalist riff on Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, garnished with large dollops of fantastical sexual depravity and a pinch of body horror, writer/director/star Zeb Haradon created one of the weirder underground movies of recent years. The absurdist script is exemplary, and the simplicity of the one-set scenario means that the movie’s technical deficiencies don’t stick out, and could even add to the oddness.
Original trailer for Elevator Movie (WARNING: trailer contains profanity and sexual situations)
COMMENTS: I have to start this review of with a confession/apology: when I first reviewed Elevator Movie over a year ago, I gave it a mere three out of five stars and made an indefensible call not to certify it for inclusion on the List of the 366 best weird movies ever made. If the truth be told, I wanted to post about the movie that night and was simply too tired at the time to write a full length review, but the excuse I made for overlooking it was as follows: “Unfortunately, in a demanding two character piece that requires top-notch, nuanced dramatic performances to succeed, Haradon’s acting talent isn’t up to the level of his imagination and screenwriting ability. The resulting film looks like an A- film school final project: it tantalizingly promises more than it’s capable of delivering.”
No doubt, the key blemish on Elevator Movie is the acting. With one location, two actors, and a heavy reliance on dialogue, the movie feels like a play. But, as I said originally, although Robin Ballard is passable in the easier role of Lana, Haradon is almost unforgivably subdued as Jim. Jim is passive, so some of the wimpiness of the characterization is intentional, but when he needs to project a menacing, seething passion subdued under a calm exterior, he can’t pull it off. Therefore, at times the inherent dramatic conflict tails off into a bland “OK, OK”, just as Jim’s voice does when Lana once again rejects his advances. There are too many “ums” and pauses in his delivery, which sound less like Jim’s natural speech patterns and more like untutored acting. And there’s a moment, after Ballard tells Haradon a story about when her uncle saw a vision of Jesus in his feces that his delivery blows what should have been a perfect (if obvious) punchline.
I still stand behind those criticisms; with the right acting talent, Elevator Movie could have been an absolute classic rather than just a fascinating oddity. But time has proven me wrong in underestimating Elevator Movie; this thing gets into your subconscious and festers there, and its weird incidents linger in the memory long after more technically polished movies have faded away completely. And sometimes, like lovers, flawed movies become all the more lovable for their flaws, which make them unique.
The basic scenario is simplicity itself—Jim and Lana, two polar opposites, are stuck in an elevator together; impossibly, for months on end. Lana enters the elevator with a grocery bag, and each morning when the couple awakens the supplies are magically replenished. The problem of elimination isn’t shied away from; fortunately, whatever entity takes care of the shopping while they sleep also empties the coffee can that holds their mingled waste. The couple have no television and neither brought an Ipod, so for entertainment they only have each other to converse with. And so, as the weeks pass, they talk, and talk, and talk.
They talk about God, they talk about their personal histories, they talk about what they would do if they were on the outside, but, as their imprisonment drags on, more and more they talk about Jim’s unusual sexual desires. Jim, a virgin and a socially inept college student studying genetics, is obsessed with the allure of anal sex. That’s his primary kink, but not his only one. The longer we stay trapped in the elevator with Jim, the more we come to realize what a sick puppy he truly is. Early on, on their very first day of captivity, he confesses his dream project to Lana: he wants to genetically engineer a Venus flytrap that’s capable of performing fellatio.
As the days mount, Jim seems to have an inexhaustible store of deviant ideas and fantasies to spring on Lana, and (in the early reels, at least) the oddest thing about her is that she accepts his perversions with nothing more than mild distaste, as if he just passed wind. The panic that would possess most women if they found themselves trapped in an enclosed space with a madman is missing from her character. In fact, from the beginning the newly chaste Lana encourages Jim’s mounting sexual frustration by suggesting that they sleep together in the spoon position, and teases him with tales of her promiscuity before she found Jesus, stopping abruptly just as his hopes start to rise. There’s a powerful strain of misogyny in her portrayal as the ultimate faux-virgin tease, but oddly enough, it doesn’t come across as offensive; probably because the misandric disgust the movie directs at Jim more than counteracts it. Lana intuitively realizes Jim is too needy to force himself on her—rape wouldn’t appeal to him, since what he longs for is willing approval of his kinks—so she has the upper hand in any sexual jousting. But, as the days wear on, she also develops a genuine fondness for the only man around. With no one else to interact with, in the redefined reality of their elevator prison, Jim’s perverse peculiarities lose their ability to shock and become a simple fact of her existence, like the buttons on the wall.
While Lana seems like a perfectly normal woman, or Jim’s imaginary version of a normal woman, she turns out to have a secret of her own. Jim, with his permanently stained button down shirt and habit of picking his nose in public, begins the picture as one of those standoffish loners you wonder about as you see him shuffling around in public with his head downcast. He gradually reveals that his psychology is more twisted than your worst imaginings. Lana’s slowly revealed affliction, on the other hand, is entirely physical, taking the form of a bizarre, Tetsuo-like sickness. It’s almost as if forced exposure to Jim’s sick psychic radiation is mutating her.
Most of the film’s itchy bizarreness comes from the characters and their straight-faced acceptance of the impossible. With no money for effects, Haradon wisely chose to tackle a project that was completely within his means. The cardboard box set works in the movie’s favor, removing all distractions and highlighting the characters’ oversized psychologies, which play like grotesque shadows against the elevator’s blank walls. Weirdness is suggested on the cheap, as when the cross around Lana’s neck inexplicably turns into an air freshener for one scene before reverting back. Much of the imagery—mainly scatological, but also one scene of brutal animal cruelty—is shocking, but it always feels integral to the sickly atmosphere, never gratuitous. Sometimes shots are framed poorly, but this seems deliberate, to add to the offness. The sound is bad—some shots have a background hum that alternates back and forth with a silent scene, and the movement of Lana’s lips don’t always match what she’s saying. The audio imperfections were probably unintentional, the result of a low budget and technical inexperience, but they could be viewed as happy accidents. Unless you have a fetish for polish, none of the technical glitches—with the exception of the acting—diminish the effectiveness of the screenplay.
Haradon understands that the basis of drama is conflicting agendas, and, aside from a few missed opportunities to ratchet up the conflict up to stratospheric levels, the script manages to keep up our interest by slowly revealing new facets of the characters and keeping up the tension as Jim and Lana struggle to reconcile their need for intimacy with their utter incompatibility. Those conflicting agendas are never revealed so dramatically as when the two agree to share their deepest wishes with each other, and scrawl them on pieces of paper for the other to read. Though the screenplay never reaches the theatrical heights of its literary inspirations, “Waiting for Godot” and “No Exit,” as an x-rated first attempt at a Theater of the Absurd piece, it comes much closer to those luminaries than it probably had any right to. The simple ending is very nearly perfect; chilling, but, due to the way the movie has altered our view of reality and forced us to reluctantly identify with Jim, also touching, in a bizarre way. Despite the absurdity of the situation and the gargantuan eccentricities of the characters, if you’re willing to accept this movie’s rules at face value, you may find that it rings with a dangerous psychological truth, and hints at something unspeakably horrifying about male sexuality.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“As a champion of ‘Eraserhead’, ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’, ‘Naked Lunch’, and ‘Back Against the Wall’, all fine films that downright bask in their toxicity to the homogenized masses, I found Haradon’s film to be unique and fascinating and a most worthy addition to the midnight movie circuit. Just don’t ask me to spend any longer in Haradon’s mind than I have to in any one sitting. It’s very likely I’d never make it out!”–Daniel Wible, Film Threat (contemporaneous)
“…the weirdly simple, natural way Jim and Lana deal with their predicament, and relate to each other, provides more than enough sustenance to sate the adventurous movie-goer too long denied a good fix of the strange stuff… Fans of early David Lynch and other low-budget, absurdist auteurs will be delighted by Elevator Movie, a sick and sincere slice of hopeless existentialism and despair.”–Kurt Dahlke, DVD Talk
OFFICIAL SITE: Elevator Movie Website
IMDB LINK: Elevator Movie (2004)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Zeb Haradon – interview with the director from artinterviews.com
DVD INFO: The weird movie community is lucky to have a flick as obscure as Elevator Movie (buy) available on a duplicated (and thus Netflix eligible) DVD at all; asking for special features would be too much. The meager extras are trailers for eight other Patherfinder-distributed features (including List entry Gozu) and bios of writer/director/star Zeb Haradon and costar Robin Ballard.