Notable Cast: Daniel Hendler, Jazmín Stuart, Federico Luppi
Review: Let’s turn our sights this week to Argentina on our never-ending search for fantastic foreign films. Nicholás Goldbart brings us a film about the apocalypse, the paranoia that comes along with it, and the survival of the fittest attitude most adapt. Blending in a few parts horror, thriller, and sci-fi; Phase 7 is a neat little film addressing all those apocalyptic themes, while avoiding ever getting too dark. I mean, yeah, it’s about a virus pandemic sweeping the world and killing countless victims, so when I say it never gets too dark, I mean it never really takes itself fully serious. Be it the soundtrack or dialogue, there are always tiny little tension breaking moments that are so blended in at times, you may not even realize them. Phase 7 tries to find the fun in a pandemic, while avoiding the chaos and complexity. The writing itself here takes a “the less you know, the less you have to worry about” type of approach. But did it work?
Coco (Hendler) and Pipi (Stuart) are a young couple living in a newly built apartment building. Expecting their first child soon, the two band together to build their relationship. But when a virus starts spreading around the country and world, the government starts to go into a panic. When one of the other tenants in the apartment building is sent to the hospital with the disease, the entire building is put under quarantine and no one can leave. Forced to band together with the remaining apartment dwellers, Pipi and Coco’s relationship is tested by the extreme conditions. But when other tenants start to snap, their neighbors become increasingly more dangerous. Coco bonds with his survivalist neighbor Horacio (Yayo Guridi), and has to avoid the rampaging Zanutto (Luppi). It’s time for Coco to step up and prove his worth to the world, or the remainder of the world that is still left healthy at least.
If there’s any time to rock a handlebar, it’s the apocalypse…
I could never get a good handle on Phase 7 because I wasn’t sure what kind of film it wanted to be. From the trailer and description, I got the whole apocalyptic vibe, but I was expecting a lot more action than delivered. The film itself falls into a more psychological dramedy than horror thriller/B-movie extravaganza. There are minimal characters, no baddies like zombies or infected, and no real mass chaos panic found in pandemic movies like the upcoming Contagion. Phase 7 was a character piece that displayed Coco’s evolution from slacker to show runner, and just happened to take place during a viral outbreak. There’s not even repetitive showcasing of brutal violence, besides one decent glimpse. So you have a character heavy story with minimal brutality and a lack of alarm. But then again, I’m confused by the synthesizer heavy soundtrack that reminded me of the campy but badass Escape from New York, that sets the tone for such actions. Not at all what I expected in the least.
For me, Phase 7 moved too slowly. I loved the character of Coco, but didn’t really care for his wife Pipi. In the beginning, the film was about the evolution of Coco and Pipi together, not just Coco. But as events progressed, Pipi became a minor character, and actually tended to get on my nerves. Hate to say it, but I didn’t care what happened to the character of Pipi, even if she was pregnant. She became nothing but a pest to Coco, having no idea the hardships Coco was enduring outside the apartment just to provide for her. Pipi was ungrateful, whiney, a nudge, and annoying. Phase 7 would have benefitted from making Coco a single dude with the same character arc, eliminating his lesser half and maximizing enjoyment of the situation.
The rest of the cast was somewhat intriguing, displaying the survivalist nature that takes over for some in times of dire need. Both Horacio and Zanutto where characters that displayed these traits, and were interesting because you could think about if this really happened, who in your group of neighbors would be the Horacio or the Zanutto? Horacio was the teacher to Coco’s student, and the necessary plot device to move Coco along his path. Zanutto on the other hand was the character who simply breaks, and becomes a loose cannon. He also provides what tension there is around the apartment building, as he lumbered around with his double barrel shotgun. To get a really good description of the tone around the apartment building, I likened it to an old wild west town. There were no laws, and it was every man for himself. Like different roving bands of outlaws, the tenants would kill each other and loot their apartments for supplies. The “epic” shootout in the parking garage even attested to my feeling, copying the old school pattern of “hide, shoot, hide, shoot, hide, shoot, reload…” and still resulting in no one getting shot. I don’t know if you agree with that comparison, but the whole time I couldn’t shake the gun-slinging feeling.
So my final assessment of Phase 7? Not the breakthrough revelation I had hoped for. There was a lot of build up and interesting camera work, but there’s never any big release. It’s one of those films that gets ready to put you on the edge of your seat, but never quite gets you there. You’re on the edge of your seat… to get to the edge of your seat. And then it all ends, and Coco rides of into the sunset with the rest of his crew. But you’re left to wonder, how much fun was it actually getting to that point? I’m not going to say it was a poorly acted film or that direction was to blame, but like I’ll say again, Phase 7 was a lot to do about nothing. I couldn’t fully engulf myself in the world because the characters weren’t panicked enough to be in a global pandemic themselves. While not getting too dark, Phase 7 could have been a different movie just from creating a little panic. Fear always helps intensity, which explains why Phase 7 lacked both.
Final Rating: 6.5 vicious neighbors out of 10