One of the best skits on Saturday Night Live in the past few years has to be the one where a group of movie theater patrons suffer through days and days, months even, of endless previews. You remember that one, right? Every upcoming movie starred Shelley Long (!) and the theater-goers eventually had to resort to cannibalism for survival. It was truly inspired stuff and still gets me every time I catch it on Comedy Central reruns. Call it a stretch, but I was reminded of this skit while watching Zeb Haradon’s diabolically strange “Elevator Movie”, in which two people get trapped in an elevator for days upon end. Apart from the similarly absurd, Twilight Zone-inspired conceit however, the two exist in vastly different universes. “Elevator Movie” was clearly inspired by early Lynch, Buñuel, Cronenberg, and even the recent work of James Fotopoulos. And if you know anything at all about any of these filmmakers you’ll rightly conclude that “Elevator Movie” firmly belongs under that prickliest of classifications: Not For Everyone. 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!
Haradon, who wrote, directed, produced, and (fill-in-the-blank)-ed the film, also starred as the introverted pervert/virgin/weirdo Jim. The film begins as Jim is joined in an apartment building elevator by Lana (Robin Ballard), an outgoing born again Christian with a sordid past of drugs and casual sex. When the elevator suddenly gets stuck between floors, the two strangers are forced into an unlikely relationship. They are dubiously assured by an elevator repairman that help is on the way, but they may as well be waiting for Godot, as he fails to ever show up. Minutes turn into hours, hours into days, days into weeks and then months. Basic humans needs like eating and going to the bathroom are never an issue for them since every morning Lana’s grocery bag is found mysteriously filled with fresh food and their wastes have vanished. The two pass the time by getting to know each other on a more intimate basis. Lana discovers that Jim is a chronically masterbating atheist with an unhealthy obsession with anal sex (though of course he’s never had it) and that the closest thing he’s ever had to an actual girlfriend was the severed, rotting leg of a dead dog named Alice (that’d be the leg, not the dog). Jim discovers that Lana lost her virginity at age 14 and then went on a rampage of promiscuity and substance abuse until the day she found Christ, literally. She believes if she prays hard enough the elevator doors will one day open and they will be free. Jim just wants anal sex. After months of denying him his awkward advances, Lana eventually gives in. There’s just one problem though, you see, Lana’s body parts have inexplicably begun turning into metal.
Like I said, it’s fun for the whole family. Honestly though, if you’re a casual movie watcher with very little interest in anything out-of-the-ordinary, then “Elevator Movie” will be probably be the strangest thing you’ve ever seen. But if you miss it, you’ll be missing the assured debut film by an undoubtedly promising new talent in Mr. Haradon. Shot in gloriously creepy 16mm black and white and on a shoestring budget, “Elevator Movie” has all the spunk and deranged spirit of Lynch’s legendary debut. I can even imagine the small group of filmmakers hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world creating this bizarre labor of love, much like their kindred spirits did some 20 years earlier in a grungy Philadelphia apartment. The film is damn near brilliant in its construction of a stifling, claustrophobic dead space of the surreal. And yet, for entirely taking place in an elevator with only two people for 95 minutes, the film never alienated this viewer or sagged from the weight of its overwhelming absurdity. A major reason for this are the performances of the two leads. Haradon proves he is not only a talented filmmaker but also maybe the next James Spader. Likewise, Robin Ballard is fearless in what must have been a truly difficult role and somehow retains her humanity even as her character begins transforming into a metallic phallus by film’s end. There’s a lot more going on in this film than I have time or any right to discuss here. I’d prefer to leave the deeper questions (such as: Is the elevator really Jim’s mind? Are Jim and Lana really the subject of a government study on human behavior? And then there’s the whole God/sex/metallic body parts thing.) to the academic crowd. Maybe if I were ever stuck in an elevator or movie theater hell, I’d have all the time in the world to think about it some more.