VOD Review: Next Floor.
Next Floor, a short film by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) manages to say more in 11 minutes than many feature films.
Much like with my review of Yorgos Lanthimos’ odd film The Lobster, Denis Villeneuve’s latest feature, Arrival, whet my appetite for more of his work. Villeneuve is becoming a must-see director. His pair of films featuring Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners, Enemy) showed that his star was on the rise, and his last outings, Arrival and Sicario, garnered major attention. His next project, the long awaited sequel to Bladerunner, will certainly make him either famous or infamous.
One of his earlier pieces, Next Floor was a happy discovery for me. I wanted a quick introduction to his style, and I’ve long wanted to cover more short films on this site. Unfortunately, you often have to wait for collections, or else pay full price for what may be a flash in the pan. Happily, Next Floor is a wonderful diversion: quick, stylish, well shot and surprisingly packed with ideas.
Next Floor (2008)
We open to ominous drums as a Maitre D’ watches his charges with the flicker of a sarcastic smile on his thin lips. Around a table mounded high with epicurean delights, eleven guests attack their meals like starving creatures. Despite their obvious wealth, their appearances are shabby, covered with dust and debris. As another course is served, we find out why: with little warning, the floor under them gives way and they plummet to the level below. The diners are dazed, but the Maitre D simply directs his waiters and the string quartet to pick up and move, simply stating “next floor.”
Dark Comedy of Errors
In the opening moments of the piece, you have very little to work with. The diners are pallid and wolfing down their food while grinning crazily, and the dishes are so ornate as to be frightening. With a bust of a baby elephant looking on, several dishes bleeding copiously, and a course of roasted mammals that look alarmingly like cats, you get the feeling that this debauch is not strictly legal. The guests themselves look like a rogues gallery from a morality play: pale, ruby lipped, dressed in antiquated finery, and grasping each new dish with shaking hands. One single woman slowly watches, pecking at her food and waving away many of the dishes. As the feast continues, she begins to also eat in a frenzy, with a tear rolling down her plaster-coated cheek.
Who are these monstrous guests? Is this a feast in hell? Why do they shake and sputter, eating so fast that they have cracked plates and glasses strewn onto the floor? Villeneuve gives you several minutes to ponder before dropping the axe, subtly altering the narrative.
Change of Scene
The first fall alters the calculus of the piece. What at first could have been a macabre feast like those seen in Hannibal, or an illicit bacchanal of a secret society now seems desperate. We finally look up as well as down, and see that these people have fallen several floors already. No wonder they eat like animals…they know that any moment may be the final course.
Now Villeneuve has you doubting your first reading. What I was sure was a tirade against oppulence and the pillaging of natural resources is now tinged with horror. Are they being made to feast by the somber host who treats each fall as a mere inconvenience? Why is there only one person who seems to be reluctant to partake, and why do the waiters serve her despite her demurring? Why is there a lone person of color present who is apparently paralyzed, looking on with a feeding tube in his mouth? If they all chose to be here and risk death for illegal delicacies, what on Earth could have been that person’s motivations? Or was he injured in an earlier fall, now forced to eat by intubation at a doomed party of his own choosing?
A la Carte
The nice thing about this film is that it opens itself up to many interpretations, none of which feel forced or overwrought. Despite a short run-time, there is a copious amount of information being presented. Next Floor certainly rewards multiple viewings as you discover new little intricacies. It’s like a brain teaser that changes shape as you notice new details. If you want to check this out, it is free with a trial membership on Amazon Prime, and the membership has quite a few other films included that may catch your interest.