Level Up follows lay about Matthew (Josh Bowman), a twenty-something gamer without a job living in London. His successful girlfriend, Anna (Leila Mimmack), is quietly losing her patience with him and is trying her hardest to help him see his own potential before she gives up on him all together. Matt’s whole day of sitting around playing video games gets put on hold when masked men break into his really nice flat, knock him out, strap a lockbox to his chest and leave him with a phone that reveals they’ve kidnapped his girlfriend and if he wants to get her back he must follow the instructions they text him throughout the day. Matthew, unprepared and lacking in skills, must luck his way through a series of challenges set by the unidentified men if he has any chance of seeing Anna alive again but, as the day unfolds, more and more becomes revealed about what Matthew is actually involved in and when the series of more ridiculous challenges will end.
The most damning part of Level Up is quite simply th at it’s a lazy film. The screenplay being the most guilty of this factor. We hardly get to see who Matthew is. We hardly see his relationship. There’s zero motive as to why he was chosen. Unlike similar films, such as Phone Booth (where the motive begins to make sense), Level Up never goes anywhere, it doesn’t build or unravel or shock. It just fizzles out into nothing. Matthew may well be the most unconvincing, in-shape Gamer, who is somehow a deadbeat without a job, but still manages to have a really nice flat in the heart of London. It’s like the screenplay writing process went along the lines of: this is like a game the character is stuck in, so we’ll throw a gamer in there, and because he’s a gamer he’s really lazy and unmotivated, and because he’s really lazy and unmotivated he doesn’t have a job, that’s how gamers are, right? And overall it’s just a really poor misguided metaphor for life.
The sad thing is there are some genuinely good suspenseful set-plays during the film. Adam Randall manages to create some spectacular moments and a couple of superb scenes, capturing the harsher parts of London, and real effort has gone into those making those scenes work the way they did. So why and how does the rest of the film feel cheap and thrown together? It’s hard to know if Randall lucked the good parts or it’s just his lack of experience that allowed for the less impressive elements to come through.
Overall, the good cannot balance out the poor, and there is a lot of it. Level Up frustrates time and time again, the characters are 2 dimensional and often lack obvious decision making skills. Logic is missing from the get-go and there are only so many times you can suspend your disbelief before you throw your arms in the arm and scream in frustration. You’ll find a lot of that happens during the viewing of this film which ends up being a predictable, un-fulfilling thriller taking the blueprints of films gone before it, but failing to execute the suspense in the same way.
Level Up is available on VOD from the 19th of September