Review: Phase 7 (2011)

Writer/director Nicolás Goldbart’s Phase 7 tells the story of a young couple – Coco (Daniel Hendler) and Pipi (Jazmín Stuart) – who discover their apartment building is to be immediately quarantined due to the appearance of a deadly virus. Their ensuing seclusion brings about a series of monstrous events, alliances and double-crossings amongst the neighbours.

Phase 7 is a relatively taut apocalyptic thriller from Goldbart, an up-and-coming Argentinian talent, that, instead of focusing on the worldwide panic that follows an epidemic, centres on a lowly apartment building and its tenants as they deal with the outbreak – with often disastrous consequences.

Goldbart’s screenplay is tight, valiantly choosing to be an intimate character piece rather than an all-out action-fuelled thriller, representing how everyday people would react to a sudden deadly epidemic. Where it falters, however, is with the jarring lurches into black comedy that ultimately do little more than diffuse tension, and not always at the times when it is necessary. The humour, including some lo-fi social commentary, is often too dry, languid and half-hearted to make much of a lasting impression.

Merit, though, must be awarded to Goldbart’s direction, which is wonderfully low-key. It’s hard to believe this is his directorial debut, as he displays such a laid-back, confident approach. He pays close attention to the characters and their responses to each other, rather than trying to create something bigger than itself. For the most part, it works well, and shows Goldbart as a director with a lot of flair and enthusiasm, but viewers will see striking resemblances to REC, Right at Your Door, and even Shaun of the Dead, which may infringe upon overall enjoyment.

Guillermo Guareschi’s complimentary score is a shining success, paying a fitting homage to similar genre films of the seventies and eighties. The oft-sinister compositions are top-notch: perfectly loud, bombastic synth sounds that hit prompts hard, audaciously and effectively when needed – especially in the second half, when the action is amped, and the film develops from a tense character study into a bloody battle for survival.

Hendler delivers an admirable turn as Coco, striking a fine line between passive coward and protective soon-to-be father and husband. While Yayo Guridi runs with Goldbart’s demented one liners as the immaculately prepared Horacio, it’s Federico Luppi as Zanutto who truly steals the show with a blisteringly calamitous performance as the physical manifestation of the epidemic, uses every means possible – whether it be combative or destructively deadly – to assume control of the apartment block and its disorderly inhabitants.

At times, Phase 7 is a nail-bitingly tense thriller, with keen performances and a savvy, evocative soundtrack. But, due in part to an often isolating plot and iffy tone, it never quite hits the heights of its auspicious and unrivalled premise. A commendable effort nonetheless, but not quite the cult classic it’s brazenly being labelled as.

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