In the bizarrely beautiful short film “Next Floor,” a lavish dinner quickly morphs into a grotesque and almost ritualistic feast as director Denis Villeneuve takes us on a disturbing journey that forces us to reflect on our uncontrollable desire to consume.
Several distinguished guests surround a large table and eat with an unquenchable hunger like starving children who have been waiting all day for Christmas dinner, stuffing their faces with the never-ending monstrous entrees served to them. Classical music plays and the wine flows as an ominous man watches the dinner take place with a sinister and blink-free stare, hinting at the horrors to come. The menu features piles of raw liver, boar, lion, “brain,” oysters, armadillo, and a dead creature resembling a cross between a squirrel and the baby from Eraserhead, along with a myriad of other unidentifiable chunks of meat swimming in their own juices. The feast is familiar and yet exotic in a way that tests the limit of appetite.
Only one solitary woman at the table subtly refuses the onslaught of food, but she is served anyway. She sits as a figure of hope and possibility. She might survive this meal, might be more than her appetite.
When the floor suddenly gives out and the table with all its guests plummets to the floor below, the ominous watcher / maître d doesn’t seem shocked at all, effectively breaking the fourth wall. He stares straight into the eyes of the audience perhaps accusing or warning us of the dangers of excess, but he also seems to plead for social transformation urging us to break free from the status quo.
The guests themselves, older and conservatively well dressed, are no doubt symbolic of superpowers like the federal reserve cartel, energy companies, the military, politicians, media networks, and religious institutions struggling to maintain the obsolete establishments they are all woven into and what this film seems to represent is a changing zeitgeist, an “out with the old and in with the new” ideology. It embodies a consumerist world with the wealthy upper class living overindulgent lives of excess atop a societal structure unable to bear the weight and support them in their lifestyle, in the end what we get is a total collapse as the structure essentially self destructs their parasitic ways beyond reform.
The opening and closing shots of the ominous man hints towards a conspiracy hidden within this complex story to bring down the “one percent”, making room for a new power or at least an invitation of sorts to watch as the privileged literally eat themselves into nothingness. They consume themselves and he’s willing to serve them to death.
The woman refusing food and shedding a tear suggests that within this wealthy circle of mindless consumption there is an ounce of uncertainty, yet the pressure to conform is so great, and ideology so compelling, that even she stays with the doomed herd perhaps because the truth is simply too unappetizing and inconvenient. Even though she has a moment of resistance, in her last moments she chooses blissful ignorant and another mouthful.
Another great success of this film is its meticulously executed composition and dark color palette. Its use of pale overtones and close ups during the entire twelve minutes voids all possibilities for the bountiful meal to be at all appetizing or desirable, creating a strong revulsion while maintaining some level of elegance with the help of the beautiful and atmospheric music.
From the same mind that brought us both Maelstrom and Incendies, “Next Floor“ fits comfortably into Villeneuve’s style of taking on powerful, deeply layered themes with a poignant complexity that makes the seemingly grotesque beautiful. Villeneuve’s short film invites us to either feast at the most decadent unrelenting meal ever or re-think our harmful ways and take perverse pleasure in imagining just how far these consumers will fall.
Jared Carney is a writer, director, and producer from Fredericton, New Brunswick and is also a Film Production student at the University of New Brunswick. Horror has always been of particular interest to him and many of his influences come from both the classic and the more extreme horror films.