(Image courtesy of the Chicago Irish Film Festival)

2017 Chicago Irish Film Festival presentation


Six very different people are stuck in an elevator, or “lift” if you will, as it is called across the Atlantic in Dublin.  One of the occupants just beat lumps into a security guard and the rest are stuck fearing for their safety.  This isn’t the most ideal place to find comedy, yet “Lift” fires a few quips at the expense of this predicament.

This was supposed to be the day that wimpy office worker Mick (Stephen Gorman) was going to muster up enough courage to ask his attractive-yet-disinterested co-worker Fiona (Hannah Crowley) out for a date.  Mick’s spirited and uncouth friend Jay (Kealen Ryan) eggs him on and joins him to play wingman and witness.  They join Thomas and his teen daughter Sofia (Colin Walsh and Meagen Gallagher) in the lift when a ruckus brings one more rider.

Sean, the lead played by Fiach Kunz, runs in after his premeditated and inexplicable attack knocks security office Frank (Alan Sherlock) out cold.  Frank is a regular in the building that Thomas and the office workers all know.  When the lift malfunctions trapping them between floors, everyone finds themselves in a different stupor as to what to do next.

The minutes and hours go longer.  The conservations increase and the tension lessens.  Flashbacks reveal Sean’s storied memories of caring for his grandfather Eddy (top-billed Gerard McSorley of “Braveheart” and “The Constant Gardener”) that soon bring sympathy to his cause.  People open up and true personalities come alive.

For a claustrophobic film setting (shot in The Spencer Hotel in downtown Dublin), the cast shows a little range to push beyond the conflict.  Kunz takes on the heaviest lifting with a role that requires shifting from threat to pity.  Walsh is a stern and welcome voice of reason when necessary.  The scene stealers are Gorman and Ryan busted each other’s chops and questioning everything out loud.  They would speak for most of us in the same situation.

Director and editor Conor Armstrong Sanfey’s film dabbles with building tension as well as breaking it.  The initial buzz of the dangerous attack scenario gives way to the uncorked candor of stressed people in WTF mode.  His editing weaves in McSorley’s presence smartly and shrewdly.  Admittedly, Scott Tobin’s underscore could use a little more musical meat to sell the strain.

Eventually, “Life” softens to a humorous miniature Stockholm Syndrome before tightening the screws again for a denouement begging for a showdown and getaway.  It’s a bit of a odd dance to shuffle the comedy alongside the anxiety, but it plays to an almost self-aware level, which is fun.  To the film’s credit, those results are occasionally uneven, yet never fully predictable.

LESSON #1: DISPELLING MOVIE MYTHS ABOUT ELEVATORS-- Don’t believe what you see in the movies.  There isn’t an easily accessible roof door to play John McClane from “Die Hard” and the front doors don’t open all that easily either.  Face it.  When you’re stuck, you’re stuck.

LESSON #2: ELEVATORS ARE NOT GOOD ESCAPE ROUTES-- Because of the reasons of Lesson #1, elevators are problematic when it comes to getting away.  They only go one direction and you’re at the mercy of mechanics and fellow riders.  Take the stairs where you can run faster.

LESSON #3: BLAMING OTHERS FOR YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES-- “Lift” reveals a beef that boiled over and drove characters toward their unbecoming actions.  There are big mouths, s--t stirrers, and people that don’t know how to say sorry.  Your actions are your responsibility.  The blame is all yours.