7th Floor (Septimo): Film Review

Prioritizing suspense above credibility, the film is a good idea that is disappointingly exploited.

A success first in Argentina and now in Spain, this well-appointed thriller stars audience magnet Ricardo Darin as a lawyer whose kids mysteriously go missing.

In countries like Argentina and Spain where most city folks live in apartments, kids will often ask their parents if they can run down the stairs while Mom and Dad take the elevator. But what happens if the kids don’t appear at the bottom? This is the intriguing high-concept scenario that successfully drives the first hour of 7th Floor.

But after that, the cable snaps and it all comes crashing down.

This is Spanish director Patxi Amezcua’s second film; the first, 25 Carat, was a taut, gritty and complex little thriller after which 7th Floor feels like a letdown. Its star appeal should mean that other Spanish-speaking territories follow where Argentina (Ricardo Darin) and Spain (Belen Rueda) have led, but there is too little here suggest that the film will climb the stairs elsewhere.

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The marriage of Argentinian lawyer Sebastian (Darin) to Spanish Delia (an often unflatteringly-lit Rueda) is falling apart after an affair he’s had. Picking the kids up one morning for school, Sebastian succumbs to their wish to run down the stairs, after which they disappear.

Some real heart-pounding tension – for parents in particular -- is generated during the minutes following the disappearance, the hysterical Sebastian’s imagination working overtime as for various reasons he bangs on doors and accuses virtually everyone he encounters of being responsible. They include the janitor Miguel (the ever watchable Luis Ziembrowski), a lawyer, Rosales (Argentinian veteran Osvaldo Santo) and some clients, whom Sebastian accuses of creating a diversion to prevent him from testifying at a key court case.

Cell phones are used so much in this film that surely it’s only a matter of time before we have a thriller consisting entirely of phone conversations. Indeed, Sebastian walks around urgently talking into his so much that the viewer wonders why he doesn’t have two -- except that this would have hobbled the film’s last thirty minutes.

When he receives a call telling him the kids have been kidnapped and asking him to deliver a lot of money in two hours, then the focus of the story shifts; we leave the building, the promise of an ingenious denouement evaporates, and the film, having promised so much, becomes generally run of the mill. The big reveal comes as a bit of a cheat – ultimately, this is a locked room mystery, but locked room mysteries depend on the audience knowing the exact layout of the building, and that information is never shared.

It’s clear from watching 7th Floor that the primary aim at the planning stage was to generate suspense. There’s enough in the fact of a father losing his kids to sustain the first hour, but once the question of the kids’ location has been solved, then Alejo Flah's script runs into all sorts of thoughtless credibility issues which only the most undemanding viewer will be prepared to excuse. “Don’t use your phone,” Rosales instructs Sebastian, and he doesn’t. So why does it then runs out of battery at an inappropriate moment?

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Darin’s presence in a film pretty much guarantees box office success throughout the Spanish-speaking world. He does what he can as a man who’s fundamentally unsure whether his first allegiance is to his family or his work, and there’s no one better at suggesting a world of turbulent hidden emotion behind an impassive exterior, but on this occasion the script demands little more of him than a sleepwalk.

Rueda is well known to foreign audiences for her stunning, passionate performance as a tormented mother in The Orphanage, but here, she is given too little time onscreen. Dialogs between the two are ill-judged: when your kids are still missing, is it really the best time to sit down and work out your issues? Other performances are solid, but the characterization of the kids, in a film about the importance of parenting, is perfunctory to the extent of being offensive to children everywhere.

Director of photography Lucio Bonelli makes the most of the building’s spiral stairway and elevator to rack up the tension, but once things move out into the wider world, it’s merely efficient. Roque Banos’ score is uninspiring and over-employed. The technical package is generally slick.

Production: CEP Audiovisual, El Toro Productions, Ikiru Films, K&S Films, Telecinco Cinema, Telefe
Cast: Ricardo Darin, Belen Rueda, Luis Ziembrowski, Osvaldo Santoro, Jorge d’Elia
Director: Patxi Amezcua
Screenwriter: Amezcua, Alejo Flah
Producers: Andres Longares, Alvaro Agustin, Ghislain Barrois, Jordi Gasull, Edmon Roch, Hugo Sigman, Matias Mosteirin
Director of photography: Lucio Bonelli
Music: Roque Banos
Production designer: Cristina Nigro
Editor: Lucas Nolla
Sound: Martin Litmanovich
Wardobe: Ruth Fischerman
Sales: Film Factory Entertainment
No rating, 100 minutos