The Lift is a neat little Dutch horror film about a sinister elevator. Before you giggle too much, think about everything that can go wrong in an elevator. Think of how many different types of fatal elevator accident there can be. Reflect on the fact (courtesy of the film) that, in the Netherlands alone, in a single year 250,000 people were stuck in elevators. Now consider what might happen if some malign intelligence were controlling an elevator. That is precisely what happens in The Lift, and the result is one of the most satisfying horror films in recent years.

A new office building contains a bank of three elevators. Strange things start to happen in the central elevator, then people start dying in unfortunate accidents. But are they accidents? The police think so, the owner of the elevator company thinks so, but the repairman assigned to check the lift out isn't so sure, particularly since the last repairman to work on it is now in an asylum. But what can be wrong with it? Did the repairman sabotage it? Is someone sneaking in and arranging the accidents? Or is there some horrid monster lurking in the elevator shaft? In the classic manner of such stories, everyone (except a beautiful woman reporter) wants the repairman to drop it, but he feels compelled to find out the truth, as is also the wont of the heros of horror stories.

The best thing about The Lift is the style of its telling. Writer-director Dick Maas borrows a lot from Jaws. He uses the same techniques Speilberg used, interspersing humor and horror, the buildup each time someone approaches the elevator (will it get this one, or will he escape?), the obsession of the hero. This is insightful borrowing, though, not slavish imitation. Maas observed what it was about Jaws that made it work and adapted those elements to his film. One particularly welcome change from many recent horror films is that Maas takes the time to make us care about his hero, played by Huub Stapel. Maas also recognizes that one can get more effective results by backing off occasionally, giving the audience a scene where they know that nothing terrible is going to happen. By releasing the tension between the big fright scenes, Maas avoids totally losing all suspense, which is what frequently happens in mad slasher films. An audience can't be kept on the edge of their seats forever, and frequently resents attempts to do so.

Technically, The Lift is fair but unexceptional. The lighting of the exterior of the elevator is especially effective, but overall the photography has an unpleasantly garish quality, perhaps because of the stock used. Maybe it was just the print I saw or a problem in projection, but some of the sound mixing was pretty bad, with dialog being nearly inaudible (but this wasn't too important, see below). The music was supportive of the mood, but did not have the added dimension of a really good horror score, like that of Jaws and The Exorcist.

The Lift is far from perfect. One of the deaths is left unexplained, a cardinal sin in this kind of film. There is a gruesome effect that is patently phony, another major mistake, particularly since the indirect shots of the same event are so much more effective. The denouement is telegraphed a bit early, at least for me it was. Also, all us computer scientists will get a chance to be either amused or offended, depending on how you react to blatantly bogus representations of certain aspects of CS. Very little is made of the character of a police inspector, though the film goes to some effort to set the character up. Oh, yes, The Lift is in Dutch (at least in its current release; should it prove sufficiently popular, it will probably be dubbed, but don't count on it). This is no problem for me, but some people have a prejudice against subtitled movies. Rest assured that the best parts don't have any dialog, anyway.

These points aside, The Lift is a superior horror film, probably the best of the meager crop of the last two or three years. It takes a refreshingly adult approach to horror, rather than the overused "hack up the horny teens for their carnal sins" approach so favored in recent years. A touch of originality in the premise is also welcome. The Lift is Dick Maas' first feature film, but he has done a number of short suspense films. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

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