A twentysomething slacker with absolutely no particular set of skills finds himself controlled by mysterious forces during a desperate mission to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend in Adam Randall’s high-concept British thriller. Starring Josh Bowman (ABC’s Revenge) as the hapless hero, Level Up bears a considerable debt to many thematically similar predecessors, including the recent Emma Roberts starrer Nerve. But while the film’s premise feels all too familiar, its extensive use of well-chosen London locations invests it with a gritty atmospheric flavor.
The central character is Matt, who would rather play video games than pursue employment or engage in a meaningful relationship with his aggrieved girlfriend Anna (Leila Mimmack). So he’s hardly prepared when masked intruders burst in, snatch Anna and attach a lockbox to his chest, ordering him to fulfill text-messaged instructions if he doesn’t want her to meet an untimely end.
This familiar-feeling suspenser is stronger on atmosphere than thrills.
Thus begins Matt’s frantic adventure as he ricochets around London, encountering a series of malevolent figures and a beautiful, negligee-clad blonde who tries to seduce him. “If you ever want to see Anna again, have sex with this girl,” he’s advised via text.
He manages to get out of that predicament and remain faithful to his captive girlfriend, proceeding to such bizarre situations as being forced to sing in a deserted karaoke bar. But the stakes keep getting higher and the encounters more violent, until he’s finally commanded to kill an identified target.
The screenplay co-written by the director and Gary Young (Harry Brown) admirably stresses action over dialogue, but it falls somewhat short in the clarity department. Viewers will likely be as confused as the protagonist as to what is going on, and the vague, episodic proceedings ultimately prove repetitive. Simultaneously fast-paced and slow-going, Level Up achieves most of its tension thanks to the pulsing musical score by the British electronic duo Plaid.
Bowman well fulfills the considerable physical demands of his everyman role, engaging our sympathy with his less than macho responses to the dangers with which he’s faced. At last, there’s an action hero to whom the audience can actually relate.
Production companies: Fulwell 73, Independent, Quickfire Films
Cast: Josh Bowman, Neil Maskell, William Houston, Kulvinder Ghir, Doc Brown, Leila Mimmack
Director: Adam Randall
Screenwriters: Adam Randall, Gary Young
Producers: Heather Greenwood, Andrew Orr, Danny Potts
Executive producers: Philip Herd, Jan Pace, Leo Pearlman
Director of photography: Eben Bolter
Production designer: Paul Burns
Editor: Kate Coggins
Costume designer: Sian Jenkins
Casting: Gillian Hawser
Not rated, 84 minutes