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Movie Review: Elevator Movie

Man and woman sitting in an elevator

I don’t know who originated the term “meet cute,” but popular theory holds that it was either invented by Roger Ebert or at least popularized through his movie reviews. In case you’re not familiar with the term, “meet cute” is primarily a derogatory term about the cliche way the male and female leads bump into each other at the beginning of a romantic comedy.

The “meet cute” has its beginnings in classic screwball comedies such as It Happened One Night with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. But the way romantic leads are introduced to each other has become so tired and constrained that the term “meet cute” was devised was to poke fun at the device.

This puts modern romantic comedies in an odd position. The genre practically demands a “meet cute” scenario, i.e. if it’s a comedy then the characters can’t “meet seriously.” Therefore, modern rom-com writers have to either disguise their “meet cute” set-ups so as not to incur ridicule or, in the case of Zeb Haradon‘s Elevator Movie, to completely twist the genre on its ear.

Getting trapped in an elevator together is a perfectly acceptable way for two characters to “meet cute,” but in Elevator Movie the two leads get trapped there for months, maybe years, on end. It’s a surreal set-up that Haradon is able to pull off convincingly by simply never really explaining how such a thing could occur, forcing the audience to just go along with the improbable scenario and not question the hows and whys.

Two strangers, Jim (Haradon) and Lana (Robin Ballard), get on an elevator that quickly gets stuck between floors. Nobody answers the help intercom and, after the two inevitably fall asleep, the grocery bag that Lana was carrying is magically refilled with fresh food and water when they wake up. In addition to these bizarre circumstances, Elevator Movie isn’t quite a traditional romantic comedy in the sense that it’s fiercely anti-romantic and the comedy is very, very dark. Haradon makes a risky move by making Jim a thoroughly unlikeable character who starts out only vaguely obnoxious but turns into an unadulterated creep.

A film about a man and a woman trapped in a confined space is of course ultimately going to have to involve sex, which is really what romantic comedies are all about anyway. However, the discussions of sex in Elevator Movie are genuinely disturbing. Not only is Lana a born again Christian, she is a reformed slut who has vowed never to have sex again until she is married. Then there’s Jim, a virgin and a raging pervert who is obsessed with anal sex, which is the perfect set-up to get two characters to not have sex. Jim, a nerdy virgin, is too weak to force himself upon Lana while Lana is too strong spiritually to give in to his incessant pleading, all of which I thought was an inspiring bout of character development on director/writer/star Haradon’s part.

Shot in gritty B&W 16mm, Elevator Movie has a very strong Twilight Zone-ish feel, actually kind of reminding me of the episode where a group of strangers are trapped in a tiny room and we finally find out all the characters are just toys being sold by a street vendor. But unlike the Twilight Zone, there is no ultimate explanation for the events of Elevator Movie. The film also goes from the slightly strange to the totally absurd, but in such a graceful arc that the ending of the movie doesn’t feel out of place.

Elevator Movie is an inspired piece of weirdness and one of the more original debut films I’ve ever seen. And with his second film, Waiting for NESARA, Haradon has gone in a completely different direction so I’m quite anxious to see what his third movie will be.