Sundance 2010: ‘7 Days’ spills blood and tears

01.24.10 8 years ago 4 Comments

Go Films/Sundance Selects

Here’s the short version of this review:  I watched the film on a screener disc on my laptop with headphones on at the HitFix condo while our music editor Melinda Newman and our reporter Katie Hasty were both writing, and by the end of it, they told me that just by my body language and my reactions while watching it, I had convinced both of them to never see the movie.  As Dan Feinberg put it, “If a movie’s making you cringe and turn away, I have to figure that’s a movie I don’t ever want to watch.”

Fair enough.

How would you ever forgive yourself?

More than any other question posed by the ugly and provocative “7 Days,” that’s the one I keep coming back to.  If your child was kidnapped and murdered, how could you ever stop thinking about all the things you might have done different?  What if you’d walked with them that day?  What if you’d driven them instead?  What if you’d been there?

One of the things no one warns you about before you become a parent is the things it does to your imagination.  No one tells you about the way you suddenly aren’t in control over the things that run through your head, the horrifying scenarios that play out a thousand times a day, unwelcome and impossible to forget.  You’re walking across a parking lot and for just a moment, your child pulls his hand free of yours and runs ahead, and an entire sickening movie plays out behind your eyes in a flash, and you see it with IMAX clarity, your child crushed under a car’s tire or struck and left brain damaged, and your reaction is almost always too extreme, an effort to just drive the image away, to safeguard them from every single possibility of harm to any degree.  That’s some sort of primal brain chemistry defense mode that kicks in with new parents, I think.

So when a child is taken from us and great harm is done to them, we’re wired to break.  It’s a total failure of our basic role to that child and moving on is never going to be easy.  For some people, it may not be possible at all.

“7 Days” is a story of just how wrong we can go in the name of grief.  Claude Legalt stars as Bruno Hamel, a surgeon with a wife he still very much loves and a little girl he adores.  One morning, they send her out the door to school on foot as they always do and they catch a little quickie before mom has to go to work and then dad, just coming off a long night shift, lays down to catch some sleep.  By the time he wakes up and his wife gets home, it’s too late.  His daughter didn’t show up for school, and he didn’t hear the phone ring to ask where she was.  Organizing a search takes time, and it’s pointless.  She’s already gone.

The collapse of personality that Bruno faces is too much to bear, and we’ve seen countless movie dads face this moment. “The Lovely Bones’ just dealt with it at Christmas for example, and next week Mel Gibson’s going to do it again.  The distance between just those two examples shows you how varied the takes on the idea can be.  Here, you’re dealing wth a trusted, respected surgeon who snaps.  That’s a skill set I find scary, and Legalt is careful to play him real, not as an exaggerated movie archetype.  It’s cool, subtle work that occasionally erupts in ways that are heartbreaking.  By putting “7 Days” in the midnight movies category, ti sort of sets it up as exploitation or as a horror movie or a thriller, but it’s not.  It’s really just more of a very sad, very ugly drama.

There’s a man who is arrested for the murder of Bruno’s daughter, a guy named Lemaire (Martin Dubreuil), and the police are certain he’s guilty.  There’s a dumb mistake made, though, and a loophole is invoked and Lemaire is ordered to be set free.  Bruno can’t accept that.  He can’t live in a world that lets Lemaire off the hook, and so he arranges a way to get his hands on him, and he takes him to a cabin he’s secretly equipped for a full week of no-excuses no-punches-pulled torture.  And make no mistake… “7 Days” rubs your nose in it.  I didn’t realize I was phobic of surgeons until now, but I am.  The creative ways Bruno has for creating pain and terror in Lemaire and then sustaining it are very logical and more chilling for the no-nonsense nature of them.  Dubreuil has one of the hardest roles I’ve seen in a long time, or maybe I should say one of the most demanding, both physically and emotionally, and also humiliating.  He spends most of the film full-frontal-naked, and there’s no dignity to the way he’s shot in the film or the things he’s asked to do.

Director Daniel Grou is working here from a script by Patrick Senecal, based on Senecal’s novel, and they’re not making a Michael Heneke film.  I never felt like Grou was calling me an asshole for watching a violent movie even as he makes a violent movie for you to watch while he calls you an asshole, as I sometimes feel with Haneke.  That sort of meta-reaction is sort of boring at this point.  I don’t mind admitting that I am drawn to stories about people facing their moral breaking poitns, and I am equally interested in stories of people who pass or fail that test.  It’s a strong film, even if it doesn’t all work.  There’s this recurring image involving a dead deer that just doesn’t add any thematic weight or visceral impact, and there are a few scenes involving him and his daughter who he imagines alive, and again, a lot of films have used that idea and there are several examples of the same exact beat in “Edge Of Darkness” next week.  It’s familiar, and “7 Days” is at its best when focused on the simple, awful struggle of these two men in that remote house.  One looking for relief, the other begging for death, and by the end, it’s not clear which is which.

“7 Days” is part of the Sundance Selects series, meaning it’s available for you to watch at home right now.

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