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MOVIE REVIEW : ELEVATORS RUN AMOK IN ‘THE LIFT’

Times Film Critic

I suppose there are people out there who have not even a shred of apprehension about elevators, but they are made of sterner stuff than I am--Teflon, I think. I was only beginning to be able to enter elevators without first checking for razors when along comes “The Lift” (Fine Arts), and it’s back to the stairs again.

“The Lift” is Dutch writer-director Dick Maas’ first feature; he’s made seven short suspense/thriller films in the last 10 years. Now 32, he has learned his craft diabolically well. “The Lift,” much of which takes place at night in a brand-new office building with three inviting, shiny orange-red elevators, flirts with our fears, pacing its deaths and disasters in monstrously assured fashion.

Determining the lethal elevator seems a cinch: the middle one--which begins its ominous activities with what seems a warning incident. Then, just as you think you have the deadly pea fixed behind the center door, another of the three goes wonky.

And all the while, a collection of victims (or would-be victims) accumulate: two randy farmers and their one-night stands; a sweet little child and her doll; a blind man, the night cleanup man who does such a blithe soft shoe, and more. Which ones live? Why do any die? Is there a common denominator to any of it?

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That’s what smart, unconventionally good-looking elevator engineer Huub Stapel wants to know, and he sets about tenaciously to find out, even when his bosses tell him to relax his grip. We see enough details of Stapel’s life--his two endearing kids, a spunky, attractive wife--to not want to see him beaten by a whimsically deadly piece of machinery.

(Actually, we care for Josine Van Dalsum, his wife, so much that we worry about him from another direction as well--when Willeke van Ammelrooy, a blond newspaper reporter for a sensationalist rag, begins putting the moves on him in the course of tracking down this story.)

Director Maas bathes his night settings in hot, almost neon colors, rich, purply blues to set off those bright elevator doors. It’s a deliberately lurid palette, a little tongue-in-cheek--he sketches his character vignettes with the same vividness. All the while he’s practicing a squeeze and release on our nerves, as those accommodating doors keep opening and closing with that cheerful European bell sound.

Writer Maas, who leaves one most important emotional matter up in the air at the film’s end, is slightly weaker than director Maas, the juicy visual stylist, who uses the arts of cinematographer Andre Sjouerman, editor Hans van Dongen and art director Harry Ammerlaan to give his film a richly dangerous look.

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By the time “The Lift” is finished, almost all of your worst elevator nightmares (and quite probably a whole new one you never considered worrying about) have flashed before your eyes. Most of them are excruciating--but bearable. However, I must register a strong protest about one moment: a death fairly early on, witnessed by a second party. It’s ruined by a not particularly good and very grisly effect, shot from inside the elevator shaft. It may wow a young audience, but it is unsubtlety that’s unworthy of the rest of the film.

‘THE LIFT’ An Island Alive release of a Media Home Presentation. Producer Matthijs van Heijningen. Writer, director Dick Maas. Editor Hans van Dongen. Camera Andre Sjouerman. Camera operator Marc Felperlaan. Sound Georges Bossaers. Special effects Leo Cahn. Art director Harry Ammerlaan, set dresser Tom Zwaan. Costumes Jany van Hellenberg Hubar. With Huub Stapel, Willeke van Ammelrooy, Josine van Dalsum, Hans Veerman, Ab Abspoel.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.

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