Canadian actor Katie Douglas takes another step up with dystopian thriller Level 16

The recent success of the Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has certainly set the table for Canadian actor Katie Douglas’s latest project. After all, her new thriller Level 16 is equally as dark and perceptive as it explores a dystopian repression of women in a frighteningly familiar and contemporary setting. 

The story takes place within the walls of the fictional Vestalis Academy – a creepy boarding school that aims to indoctrinate young girls with “feminine virtues” while punishing those who fail to comply. While on the surface it appears the Academy’s sinister aim is to prep the girls for eventual adoption by wealthy patrons, soon rebellious teen Vivien (played by Douglas who’s best known from TV’s Mary Kills People) learns that what lies beneath is an even darker secret. 

We caught up with the young actor ahead of the film’s release Friday, March 15 at Globe Cinema to discuss starring in the acclaimed feminist thriller and why it’s always worth roughing it for the sake of art.

Q: First of all, filmmaker Danishka Esterhazy said her own memories and experiences as a teen girl helped inform this story.  Did you find the same for yourself in the role of Vivien?

A: Yeah. We are talking about somebody whose reality is very much different yet not entirely different than that of a normal teenage girl. (The characters) exist in a world that is completely separated from reality – they’ve never seen the sky, they’ve never breathed the air outside that building and they were raised to conform to very feminine virtues. And of course, when you think about it, a lot of the things that you can hear the villains saying in the script, you can still hear people saying things like that in real life. And growing up I did find myself conforming to what I thought being a young lady was, so in a lot of ways I brought some of the anger of that concept to Vivian.

Q: There’s a scene where the school’s male physician says to your character, “When a girl is obedient and sweet, the world cannot help but love her.” 

A: That’s nothing but true. I’m sure a lot of girls can relate to that.

Q: And the way that it’s presented in the movie makes it sound like something ripped from an ancient etiquette guide for girls. But do you think that sort of placating pressure is still heaped upon girls growing up? 

A: I think it does. I think there’s an echo of that there, and the movie makes a statement against that and how traditional feminine virtues can silence and suppress women. But to this day, yes, it’s still relevant and it’s still present. Not to the extent of the film of course. (Laughs)

Q: Of course this movie takes on a certain context in the wake of the MeToo movement as well. You are only 20 years old, but have you noticed any changes in the last couple years that those attitudes are changing?

A: I think people are suddenly scared. I think people are realizing the severity of the situation and are more cautious – which I do think is a long time coming. I have noticed changes and the concept — it’s brought to my attention much more.

Q: The film has such a great tone and look to it as well – and the setting for the Academy is such a great dystopian location. I understand it was a decommissioned police station. What was it like going in to such a creepy locale every day to film?

A: That’s right, it was an old abandoned police station and our set dresser and our cinematographer – it was a very creative process and working with what we had, it didn’t really look like that in real life. It was quite beige and mouldy, like, we were pretty sure there was asbestos in there but we don’t know. (Laughs) It was a very dreary shoot. Of course there was a lot of smiles and a lot of wonderful people, but it was a dreary shoot so I do think it affected our on-camera performances.

Q: Oh, the glamour of filmmaking.

A: (Laughs) Well, we were making art. We were roughing it for a little while.

Q: And I imagine that locale certainly lent itself to the vibe of the movie.

A: Yeah, it did too. It was a very gritty shoot. Which is exactly what it should have been.

Q: Danishka has stated that the vibe she was going for with this was Jane Eyre meets Logan’s Run. I’m just curious, did she have you watch either film prior to making this?

A: Jane Eyre for me, yeah, but not Logan’s Run. I didn’t even know that until we were into filming. We just kind of brought what we brought I guess.

Q: Lastly, what did you learn most about being in this film and from the subject matter?

A: This was quite a wonderful opportunity for me — especially at this stage of development. As you know, women have had obstacles and they’re getting better but they’re still present (and) the fact that we got to do this. I mean, we did it and it was such an empowering experience and I’m very, very grateful to have been part of something so creative and empowering. I learned a lot about being a leader and being driven and being good at your art.

Level 16 opens at the Globe Cinema this Friday. For showtimes please go to

Steve Gow has spent a good amount of his time conducting interviews for a variety of publications as well as on television. Most notably, he was a film reporter for The Movie Network/HBO Canada and his written stories that were regularly featured in Calgary’s former “go-to guide” FFWD weekly, as well as Metro, Toronto Star and more.