Tuesday 21 September 2010

Obscurity Files #24 - Blackout

Obscurity Files aims to put the spotlight onto a series of films that time and audiences have otherwise forgotten. With M Night Shyamalan's Devil currently in cinemas, I thought I'd take a look at another film set in an elevator. Today it's 2007's Blackout.
More after the jump...

Three complete strangers enter an elevator in an apartment building. They've all been having a bad day and it's about to get worse. The lift gets stuck between floors, and there's no-one else in the building to call for help. Everything starts off okay, and they're all sure that a rescue is imminent from this minor inconvenience, but as the hours pass cabin fever starts to set in, and the once polite indifference towards one another starts to turn into threats of violence. All three of them have urgent reasons to get out of the lift, particularly the killer that hides amongst them.

There's something quite unnerving about being trapped in an elevator. Personally I hate lifts and try to avoid them wherever possible. I know they're not going to plummet or suffocate me, but I can't help but think of them as giant metal coffins on a string. It's this fear that Blackout (and other films like it) feeds upon, and the mixture of claustrophobia, heights and a short air supply makes for a frightening combination. Added to that, if you're going to think of the worst person you could be stuck in a lift with, serial killer is probably not too far behind Devil.

This is unashamedly genre piece, and it works quite well at using some of our worst fears against us. The trio manage to gain access to the lift shaft at one point, but escape is so difficult they could just as easily be trapped down a well. They're all having the day from hell, and throughout their time in suspended captivity flashbacks inform us why they're all in such a rush to escape. They all have loved ones in need, but have ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

No-one was completely innocent when they got in this elevator. Claudia (Amber Tamblyn) has got dried blood on her neck, Tommy (Armie Hammer) has his hand bandaged up and Karl, well he's an increasingly creepy guy hiding many secrets. Claudia's a bit selfish really, only offering up her hidden bottle of water and a small amount of food when one of her travelling companions hurts themselves.

The title's a bit of a misnomer too. There's no actual Blackout (except for a bit of a flicker with the electrics the lights remain on), it's the lift mechanism that's at fault in this film. Do you know how many film's are called Blackout? A quick IMDb search offers up 36 results. The images the title conjures up is basically shorthand for what might happen. It's just another genre convention that this film sticks too.

Fears of the dark as well as isolation and starvation are all played with here, and act as catalysts for what is the real threat for them; that one of them has an unhinged mind and may resort to killing the other two. There may be no weapons in the elevator, but there's many ways to hurt someone and then have plenty of time to come up with a story.

This film feeds on that concept that you never know who those people are you share a lift with. They may look like normal people, but can just as easily be a serial killer. The identity of the killer in this film isn't really a mystery, blatantly obvious as soon as the film starts, but altogether it's an enjoyable enough genre flick that obeys conventions but never really beats expectations.

Save from obscurity? YES

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