Written and Directed by: Nicolás Goldbart
Starring: Daniel Hendler, Jazmín Stuart and Yayo Guridi
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The world is ending...got ammo?
I like the ideas presented for much of Phase 7, an Argentine film which posits that we might not spend the apocalypse in total hysterics. Instead, once the end times begin, we’ll probably just be combating the usual stuff: nagging wives, asshole neighbors, and a shortage of light bulbs. Well, until the crazy guy living down the hall finally loses his stuff, grabs a shotgun, and starts to get trigger happy at everything that movies. In this case, he sort of takes the film down with him, but Phase 7 still manages to be a nice oddball entry in the recent Armageddon cycle.
When a killer virus begins to spread throughout the world Coco (Daniel Hendler) and Pipi (Jazmin Stuart) find themselves quarantined in their apartment building along with the rest of the tenants. For the most part, life goes on, until the nutty conspiracy theorist neighbor, Horacio (Yayo Guridi), ropes Coco into exploring the building. They eventually begin to clash with the rest of the neighbors, who have formulated their own plan for surviving the outbreak; the one with the shotgun (Federico Luppi) is especially defensive, so their relaxed existence soon becomes a fight for their lives.
When you hear “characters trapped in an apartment building due to a killer virus,” your mind probably goes straight to [REC] or Quarantine. Either way, Phase 7 feels like either one of those re-imagined as a quirky indy drama. Maybe toss in a dash of The ‘Burbs too, as the stuff with Coco and Horacio snooping around the building and feuding with the other tenants feels kind of similar to Dante’s film. It’s got the same sort of tongue in cheek, low key barbs being traded back and forth. The characters are pretty fun too; Coco gets called a dickhead a lot and sure has to put up with a lot from his pregnant wife, but he’s an affable sort who can’t seem to tell anyone “no,” which leads to plenty of problems. Horacio is a real show-stealer, though, as he’s a conspiracy theorist who’s stocked up on New World Order tapes; he’s so paranoid that he doesn’t believe the term “acute paranoia” is even real, despite what his therapist says. For the most part, much of the tension in this section is derived from whether or not Coco will have enough Froot Loops to last him through to the end.
And then heads start exploding, at which point Phase 7 pretty much turns into a typical paranoid thriller. A long stretch of the final act involves our heroic duo tiptoeing around the apartment building to evade the deranged, shotgun-wielding war veteran who piles up a bunch of corpses. This section especially could use some trimming, as the tension (which is already diluted due to all of the preceeding humor) is a little lacking. By the time this sequence climaxes in a prolonged showdown marked by a bunch of gunshots in the dark, I was just hoping to get back to the characters in their quieter moments. We get back to them eventually, but the screenplay stays a little bit too mean-spirited than it should, all the way up to the end.
Despite those reservations, Phase 7 is handsomely shot, and I especially enjoyed the Carpenter-esque score, which adds some weight to both the quiet and loud scenes. As a collection of small moments, this is a fine, tidy little film; I feel like I could have spent the whole time with just Coco, Pipi, and even Horacio living out the minutia of their lives set against the backdrop of a deadly epidemic. Sort of like a smaller scale version of Contagion, perhaps, would have been preferable to the usual scare tactics this degenerates into. I guess I might be saying that Phase 7 might have been better off it weren’t turned into a horror/thriller at all because the characters are good enough the day without getting lost in a series of long chases and gunfights.
A few weeks ago, I saw Nacho Vigalondo’s latest film, Extraterrestrial, which was quite similar to this and took the wiser route of remaining a character study. I still think Phase 7 would make a fine companion to that film in a sort of quirky, Spanish-language “end of the world double feature.” It just isn’t quite as well-realized, but it’s not a bad bunch of characters to pass some time with. Part of Bloody Disgusting’s Selects series, it was released a few weeks back on DVD, and it’s a solid presentation. The transfer is nice and vibrant, while the 5.1 track is very impressive in the wayi t scatters sounds all across the room, from gunshots to tiny ambient noises. An English dub option is available, plus some deleted scenes round out the disc, which you should look for on rental shelves (or queues, which is much more fashionable these days). Rent it!
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