In film school, one of the first things you learn about putting together the sound for your celluloid project is that you can never have “no sound.” Even “silence” sounds like something; if you literally put nothing on the soundtrack, it will sound like the speakers have failed, and the audience will be taken out of the movie. This is where a little thing called “room tone” comes in: the sound, such as it is, of an empty room. On most interior film shoots, the sound person will simply ask for absolute quiet on the set, and record the results.
I mention this because 7 DAYS gives great room tone. There’s no music in the film, and much of it takes place in nearly empty interiors. I found myself noticing the room tone above all else, which may be a testament to the sound guy, but it’s also a testament to how engrossing some other aspects of the movie aren’t.
Part of the new Sundance Select series, which will be playing certain Sundance movies from this year on-demand, starting the day after they play Sundance, and continuing for 60 days after that, 7 DAYS (whose French title translates directly as “7 days of retaliation”) may seem on the surface to be part of the whole new wave of French ultraviolent horror, a la MARTYRS, FRONTIERS, INSIDE, etc. But it isn’t – first off, because it’s not French, but Quebecois. And second, even though it does depict realistic acts of brutal violence, the movie almost seems to be too embarrassed to be a horror movie, though it’s written by Patrick Senecal (apparently known as the Stephen King of Canada) from his own novel. Director Daniel Grou, who uses the pseudonym “Podz” for some reason I wasn’t able to discern with a quick Google search, is trying for something much more serious and artsy...but his reach exceeds his grasp.
The premise is pretty simple: a surgeon’s young daughter is abducted, then found raped and murdered (her corpse is particularly, unsettlingly realistic and nasty-looking). The perp is found very quickly, thanks to newfangled DNA testing. The veteran detective in charge of the case, Herve Mercure (THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS’ Remy Girard), assures the grieving dad, whose name is Bruno Hamel (Claude Legault) that the trial should just be a formality; they’ve got as close to an ironclad case as one can have against the guy, a sleazeball named Anthony Lemaire (Martin Dubreuil). But this isn’t enough for Bruno, so via some well-placed bribes, he breaks Lemaire out of custody (this is almost comically easy; by American standards it’s astonishing how unguarded such a dangerous criminal is) and takes him to an isolated cabin, where he proceeds to shackle the guy up and torture him for seven days, at the end of which he plans to kill him and then surrender to police.
So, unlike the SAW movies that don’t actually have any torture in them (fast-acting traps are not the same thing), this is genuine torture horror. (Side note: how come no-one ever calls MISERY or HARD CANDY “torture porn”? Torture is the entire essence of the drama in both.) But like ANTICHRIST (which similarly revolved around losing one’s mind out in the woods after the death of a child), it’s also would-be Art. Where Lars von Trier aimed for art and created a bona fide horror movie, however, Podz takes a horror story, aims only at the art, and, well...it’s arguable whether or not he hits. Part of the movie’s point is that revenge is not actually satisfying, so when the movie itself fails to satisfy, is that exactly the point? It’s the FUNNY GAMES argument, sort of. Except it was always very clear that Michael Haneke intended his movie to piss you off, whereas something like THE STRANGERS, which was similarly unsatisfying in its closure, was not as obviously trying to incite that feeling.
I’m guessing that Podz did intend his film to frustrate horror-fan expectations. Though brutality is brought down upon the captive Lemaire – notably when Bruno breaks his leg and then hangs him from the ceiling by a noose so that he has to stand up straight on it or choke – the director is more concerned with the damage done to Bruno’s psyche, the humanity steadily lost as he goes down this road. It’s no stretch to imagine that the current international debates over torture were an inspiration, or that he wants to make those in the audience who are looking forward to onscreen brutality feel similarly to Bruno.
But then there’s this whole running metaphor he employs, again slightly reminiscent of ANTICHRIST, in which a disemboweled deer carcass keeps resurfacing to bother Bruno. At first he covers it with sticks, and the sticks eventually fall away. Then he tosses it in the lake, and it ultimately floats back to the surface. Does the deer represent his guilty conscience? His dark side? His lack of satisfaction? It is rubbed in our face as “SYMBOLISM!” and yet it feels like the director patting himself on the back for coming up with a symbol, rather than anything that illuminates the story.
It’s also pretty unintentionally funny to a drinker like myself that every time Bruno needs to settle his nerves, he takes a swig of beer. Beer! A swig of liquor night do it, but we're expected to see this guy as an alcoholic (he wakes up in his own puke at one point, lying on the floor) just because he has a couple of beers after torturing a dude. Either Podz is a teetotaler with no clue, or Canadian beer really is That Damn Strong.
I mock, but I don’t hate the movie. I just didn’t get a whole lot out of it, as horror or anything else. I think I understand its points, but it overplays. Lemaire’s screams are so high-pitched and frequent that I started laughing at them after a while, and then there are these hallucinations Bruno has about washing his dead daughter in the bathtub that just pushed things too far into fakeness for my liking. It’s playing as a midnight movie at Sundance, but it doesn’t deliver what I would want from a midnight movie.
7 DAYS debuts on-demand January 22nd, where it will play for 60 days. It opens wide in Quebec Feb. 5; further U.S. distribution plans are pending.
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