Level 16

We open on a dark near future where teenaged girls are locked inside a school and being conditioned in the “feminine virtues,” the most important of which is obedience. We don’t find out why the girls are being conditioned this way until late in the film, but one can’t help but think of The Handmaid’s Tale as we try to puzzle it out with the lead, Vivian. Ironically, it is probably the success of that TV show that helped to get this project greenlit. A passion project for Esterhazy, she was planning to make this her first feature 10 years ago.  It was rejected again and again: “Teenaged girls can’t carry a film” “If you are doing a film in a girls’ school, it needs a naked communal shower scene.” And so on. Ad nauseum. Proving that women actually do live in a dystopia here and now. But Esterhazy persisted. She filmed this in 20 days last fall and is now touring the festival circuit with it. Strong world building and a great cast that includes Suits’ Sara Canning allows for an exploration not only of women’s socialization and treatment, but also of class issues and the growing disparity between the ultra rich and the poor.